Hawaii sports betting “dead for another year”

February 9, 2023 Hawaii State Flag - Casino Genie

As one of only two US states with absolutely no officialized legal betting, the possibility of Hawaii passing a law to permit sports wagering was always a long shot (pardon the pun). A bill introduced in the state’s House of Representatives was brought before the house committee on economic development, and swiftly shelved earlier this week, and the signs are that there will be no further attempts to legislate in 2023. So it appears that any chance of Hawaii permitting sports betting has been repelled for another year.

Of the 50 states in the Union, only Hawaii and Utah have absolutely no form of legal betting permitted in an official sense. Hawaiian residents can play cards around their kitchen table and bet among themselves, but the state has no land-based casinos, no racetrack betting, and absolutely no online betting. House Bill #344 would have permitted online sportsbooks that were already operating in three other states to open platforms in the Aloha State. This is believed to be the only form of betting with any chance of gaining widespread approval, but it won’t have the chance to do so in the present calendar year.

The Bill was sponsored by State Rep John Mizuno, who argued that betting is already taking place in Hawaii, and that by bringing it under the auspices of state law, it would be possible to mitigate the harms incurred when state residents bet using unlicensed and offshore sites. His argument was met with suspicion and skepticism by the committee, which chose not to advance the legislation to the House floor for consideration by the elected lawmakers. While some states, including Missouri, seem likely to pass betting legislation in 2023, Hawaii will not be joining them right now.

Among the evidence presented in support of the bill was a study that suggested as much as $670 million is illegally gambled in the state every year. This evidence was cast into doubt when follow-up queries revealed that that number was extrapolated from a national survey and that no specific numbers currently existed for the state itself. While it was reasonably argued that it is hard to collect specific data from a market made up of illegal operators that do everything they can to avoid detection, this argument fell on deaf ears.

There may be cause for a kernel of optimism as a result of this failed effort to implement legal sports betting in the state. It appears that opposition to betting on a legislative front runs far less deep than may previously have been assumed. Head of the Economic Development Committee Daniel Holt stated that “At some point, this may be a worthy cause for us” while Governor Josh Green suggested that he would be open to discussing gambling legislation. However, both lawmakers stopped short of indicating any support for sports betting in the here and now, and underlined the potential harms of betting.

With every indication that the topic will not be considered for another twelve months at least, betting-friendly lawmakers in Hawaii now have a year to collect more convincing evidence and find a way to write a bill with language that can pass the committee stage. That may not mean that betting passes any time soon in Hawaii, but other states have shown that winning compromises can be built out of past failure.

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