HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new bill would allow slot machine gambling at international airports in Hawaii, but only for passengers flying to other countries.
Even gambling lobbyists are skeptical about whether this proposal will be approved by state lawmakers, but limiting gambling to out-bound international visitors means many local residents would not be able to gamble at the airport.
The proposal calls for slot machines placed in secured areas of the airport, open only to passengers who can show they have a plane ticket to an international location.
"Why not allow the visitor in their last few hours, spend their money in Hawaii and and leave their money in Hawaii, why not allow them to have a slot machine and gamble," said State Rep. Cindy Evans, (D-North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala).
Evans -- who said she's opposed every other gambling proposal in the last 12 years in the House -- introduced the bill, hoping to raise money to modernize and repair airports with the gambling profits.
"This is about finding money to support the airports. I think it's out of the box. I think it's very unique and different, because it's not about gambling in Hawaii," Evans said.
Many of the Canadian visitors headed back to Canada on two WestJet flights from Honolulu Friday liked the idea.
"I think it's terrific. Nothing better than gambling while you're waiting three hours at an airport," said Vicki Neil of Vancouver, Canada.
But some of the Canada-bound visitors felt otherwise.
"There's people that can't afford to gamble," said David Birkett, traveling back to Calgary, Canada. "They've come to a vacation to enjoy themselves and then they spend their money gambling. I personally don't think it's the greatest idea, but a lot of people enjoy gambling."
The Hawaii Tourism Authority's CEO Ronald Williams said the HTA does not support any form of legalized gambling in Hawaii.
"Legalized gambling would not enhance our destination brand, but rather dilute it and distract from what makes our Hawaiian Islands unlike anywhere else in the world," Williams said in a statement.
But John Radcliffe, who's been lobbying in Hawaii on behalf of casinos for 15 years, said the proposal "takes away all the arguments that people have about gaming in Hawaii. And it establishes a way for us to get more money in state coffers, what's wrong with that?"
Since the bill was just introduced this week, the state Transportation Department and Attorney General's office say they haven't had time to study the bill and develop a position yet.
Evans, who's the House majority leader, admitted she didn't run the proposal by her colleagues before introducing it, so she said she has no idea if it will get a positive reception. But she said the normal arguments against gambling, such as increased crime and fear about Hawaii residents spending too much money and going into bankruptcy would not apply to her proposal, since it limits gambling to international air passengers.