In 5-4 vote, Hawaiian Homes Commission supports moving forward with casino proposal

Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 6:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaiian Homes Commission voted 5-to-4 Tuesday to move forward with a plan to build a casino resort that would generate revenue for Native Hawaiians programs.

But the controversial proposal is anything but a done deal.

The commission technically approved a draft bill that will be presented to the Legislature for consideration. The state Attorney General’s Office and governor will review the bill to determine whether they support it.

If not, the commission will need to seek legislative sponsors.

“We do have supporters in the senate and in the house, is it enough to get it to pass? asked DHHL Chair and Chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, William J. Aila Jr. “I have no idea but we are never going to have the opportunity unless we move forward today.”

Deputy Department of Hawaiian Homelands Chair Tyler Lokepa Gomes said the casino proposal is about helping the thousands of people on the waiting list for homes.

This bill is the single greatest opportunity that we have to put ourselves in the dominion of exercising economic self-sufficiency,” Gomes said.

Gomes disagreed with those who say gambling is inconsistent with Hawaii’s culture and said Hawaiians have always embraced games of skill and chance.

The department wants to build the casino and resort on Hawaiian Homelands property in Kapolei that’s already designated as commercial.

Gomes said the casino would rake in at least $30 million a year to help build homes for the nearly 29,000 Native Hawaiians on the waitlist.

DHHL commissioners just learned of the proposal days ago — and not everyone was on board.

Commissioners Randy Awo, David Kaaapu, Zachary Helm, and Patricia Teruya voted against the measure.

Awo said his biggest concern was the quick turnaround for considering the proposal.

“Nobody is coming to help us. That’s the situation we are in,” he said. “But I don’t necessarily agree that it has to be now or we lose the opportunity.”

The measure got support from Commissioners Michael Kaleikini, Russell Kaupu, Pauline Namuʻo, Dennis Neves, and and Commission Chair William J. Aila.

“There is nobody going to come to our rescue,” said Aila, before the commission voted Tuesday afternoon. “This is an opportunity to rescue ourselves.”

The upcoming state Legislature would need to change state law to allow the project.

The department said revenues from the casino would be used to address DHHL’s “dire financial state.” The proposal calls for establishing a Hawaii Gaming Commission and State Gaming Fund.

During the commission meeting on Tuesday, dozens of people gathered outside of DHHL’s office in Kapolei to protest the proposed casino.

“We don’t need leases, we don’t need casinos, we need land, we need our people on their land,” said Kapua Medeiros of Waimanalo.

“They’re in it for the profits, they’re not in it for the people,” said Sweet Tee of Papakolea.

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