In the last two years law enforcement has seized 180 Internet gaming machines in 20 raids on gaming parlors. The sweepstakes machines give winners a coupon or token.
"You can redeem it for money. So in that way it is a form of gambling," City Councilman Joey Manahan said.
Manahan is behind Bill 30 that would make the machines illegal on Oahu and punish people who manage, supervise, maintain, provide, produce, possess or use what he calls "simulated gambling devices."
"These places are often raided. And yet they're up and running the very next day," he said.
The bill passed its first reading Wednesday before the full council. PJY Enterprises distributes and maintains the machines. It insists they are not gambling devices. The company's attorney Keith Kiuchi calls Manahan's bill vague.
"This bill is not very well thought out," he said.
"I think you need to start the conversation broadly and then work towards a good piece of legislation that will address the problem or the issue," Manahan said.
He said there are at least three gaming rooms with the machines in his Kalihi district. He said some are in residential areas and people have complained about them.
"There's one located right next to Farrington High School. A lot of kids going by every day. It exposes them to gambling at an early age, and it develops a bad habit later on in life," Manahan said.
If the bill becomes law a gambling machine violation would be a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000, jail time up to 30 days, or both.
The Honolulu Police Department supports the bill but is concerned about its wording. The Council's Public Safety committee will hear testimony on the gambling machine bill next week.