Hawaii: Legislative effort to legalize online sports betting rejected ahead of Super Bowl

Online sports betting in Hawaii seems to be a no-go for the near future, with the state set to miss wagering on Super Bowl for another year. A legislative effort to legalize the activity was rejected on Wednesday morning, with leaders stating it was likely the “first and last play” for legalized gaming this year.

The sports gaming industry and supporters argued it would be in the state’s best interest to legalize, regulate, and tax betting, as thousands of people are already illegally doing it. The industry estimated that legal online sports betting on their platforms could bring about $7 million a year.

Pat Gibbs, a lobbyist for the Sports Betting Alliance, told the House Economic Development Committee that an Ernst and Young study for the industry estimated that “276,000 people bet a combined total of $670 million in illegal sports wagers each year in Hawaii, using bookies or offshore sites on their phones and computers.”

But asking where those gamblers tend to be located yielded an admission that the numbers were extrapolated from a national study with no specific focus on Hawaii. “So we don’t have specific numbers,” Gibbs admitted, as reported by Hawaii News Now. “It’s an illicit market with participants and operators who do not want to be tracked.”

Gambling opponent state Rep. Elijah Pierick said that legal or illegal, the harm is the same. “The statistics are highly against them,” Pierick stated. “They probably are not going to win their wager; they will probably lose more money.”

Rebecca London, representing sports betting giant DraftKings, said their system allows them to watch for problem gambling and encourages players to limit how much time and money they spend. “We find that the most sustainable consumer base is folks that are doing it in a responsible fun way,” London noted.

Aerial view of Honolulu

Legislative leaders said that, with 35 states allowing online sports betting, it was the only form of gaming with even a slim chance of passing this year.

Committee chair Rep. Daniel Holt, who noted he sees lots of illegal gambling in his Kalihi district and recently supported a system of local sports betting and poker parlors, said his recommendation was to kill the bill.

“I think maybe at some point this may be a worthy cause for us, but at this point, $7 million a year may not be worth putting our communities at risk,” Holt told the committee, as per the cited news source.

Holt and House leaders said that was the last we will hear of gambling in Hawaii in 2023. Senate leaders also noted with a legislative agenda already packed with urgent issues, legalizing gambling is almost certainly dead for the year.

Gov. Josh Green has indicated that he is open to discussing gambling bills. However, he also expressed concern that legalization would only increase the number of people harmed by gambling habits.