Hawaii is one of only two states with no form of gaming, and one of only a handful that does not have a lottery.
And yet, a clear majority of registered voters surveyed in a new Civil Beat Poll want either a statewide lottery or to join a multi-state lottery such as Powerball.
Those who support a lottery lead opponents 55 percent to 34 percent in the poll, with just 4 percent unsure and 7 percent saying it doesn’t matter.
But a lottery is likely a tough sell to the state Legislature, which has continually rejected any form of gambling.
In the most recent session, a House bill setting up a state lottery commission to implement a lottery and a Senate bill to establish a Hawaii internet lottery and gaming corporation for the purpose of conducting internet gambling were quickly shelved.
Both carry over to the 2018 session, but their chances of being heard are slim. That has been the fate of most gaming bills, including ones calling for a casino in Waikiki and shipboard gambling in Hawaii waters.
It’s ironic, given that cockfighting is illegal here and yet perceived as tolerated. Las Vegas is also known as Hawaii’s Ninth Island because of the popularity of Sin City as a travel destination for locals.
This week Civil Beat has reported on how voters feel about controversial proposals that have struggled at the Legislature.
The poll found that most voters surveyed support holding a constitutional convention and having citizen initiative and referendum — ways to enact change without having to go through elected representatives.
The Civil Beat Poll, conducted Nov. 27-29, surveyed 843 registered voters statewide, 70 percent on landlines and 30 percent with cellphones. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percent.
‘Our Schools Need It’
P. Denise La Costa of Lahaina, who took the poll, said she supports a lottery. The reason is money.
“I think it’s a way to get additional revenue, because Lord knows our schools need it,” said La Costa, a real estate broker. “As long as people don’t get a gambling addiction.”
La Costa said she has only gambled one time, but she does like to buy a lottery ticket when she travels to the mainland.
“I won $96 from the California Lottery,” she said.
But Clarence Kano of Honolulu opposes a lottery for Hawaii.
“I think those that can’t afford it will play the lottery,” he said. “The state makes lots of money, but it’s a form of tax for the poor.”
Kano, who does not gamble, said the argument that a lottery would bring in revenue “has its merits. But I think it’s a form of taxation.”
Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted the poll, said lotteries in other states were initially targeted to shore up education funding.
Fitch called attention to the fact that 63 percent of voters surveyed without college degrees favor a lottery, compared with just 27 percent opposing the idea. Those who earn less than $50,000 a year support lotteries somewhat more than those making more money.
More Appealing Than Taxes
Lotteries appear here to stay, however, at least in other states.
The Washington Post reported last year that Powerball had a $2 million jackpot when it launched in 15 states in 1992.
“Today, you can play the game in 47 states,” Niraj Chokshi reported. “It generates more than $4 billion in annual sales.”
Powerball is coordinated by the nonprofit Multi-State Lottery Association, which describes itself as a “government-benefit association owned and operated by its member lotteries.”
MUSL lists over 30 states as members, from Arizona to New Hampshire.
“All profits are retained by the individual lotteries and are used to fund projects approved by the legislature authorizing each lottery,” according to MUSL.
A 2016 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures said states are “betting on gaming” to help fund local governments:
With state budgets still lagging pre-recession revenue levels, lawmakers hope to score a windfall by expanding legal gaming. Revenues from gambling offer an appealing alternative to the politically unpopular, increasingly undoable and invariably conflict-laden effort to hike taxes.
NCSL’s Jackson Brainerd reported that gambling raised $27.7 billion in fiscal year 2015 for state and local governments.
“Sounds good,” he wrote. “But it represents a relatively small portion of most state budgets, somewhere between 2 and 2.5 percent.”
The Civil Beat Poll Dec. 2017 — Statewide Lottery:
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