HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - From cockfights in remote and guarded locations to game rooms raided in the heart of urban Honolulu to sports betting through the Internet that hits a fever pitch during the football season, illegal gambling maintains a foothold in the 50th state.
Honolulu police say it doesn't appear to be growing but it's still big business.
"I'd say it's probably millions of dollars made annually just in illegal gambling alone," Maj. Susan Dowsett said.
She heads up HPD's Narcotics/ Vice Division that includes the anti-gambling detail.
In 2010, the department conducted 127 illegal gambling investigations, made 57 arrests, and seized over $160,000 in cash and property.
Last month, three men police say guarded gambling houses were charged with the beating death of another man accused of stealing money from a Chinatown game room.
Law enforcers say it's the latest evidence illegal gambling contributes to other crimes.
"It's not just a person going to a cock fight and betting money," Dowsett said. "That money isn't being funneled in a legal manner. They may be selling drugs there."
Tough to police is sports betting through the World Wide Web.
Gambling opponents call it the "new frontier" that's especially enticing and potentially damaging for compulsive gamblers.
"It takes over your entire life and consumes every aspect," recovering gambling addict Paul Lancaster said.
Before he moved to Oahu and enrolled in Gamblers Anonymous he was hooked on sports betting and other forms of gaming. He racked up $200,000 in gambling debts.
"That's the allure of sports betting. I can bet $5,000 even if I don't have it," he said.
Lancaster is a fitness coach. Once a week he leads a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, but every day is a workout to suppress the urge to wager. He said others in his support group face the same struggle.
"Because you're a compulsive gambler you always lose. There is no such thing as winning," he said.
To combat illegal gambling, Honolulu police use forfeiture laws to go after landlords who house gambling dens. But it's a slow process and the target is always moving.
"Sometimes we will close down one location and they will find another location to go to," Dowsett said.
Because getting busted for gambling in Hawaii is a misdemeanor, police feel there's little dis-incentive for the players, so cops focus on the organizers.
"We want to target those people," Dowsett said. "They're the one's creating an opportunity for a violation to occur."
Dowsett said HPD is doing well in its fight to curb illegal gambling. Like the gaming itself, enforcement efforts will continue to evolve.
To contact Gamblers Anonymous on Oahu call 595-8838.