The state agency in charge of putting Native Hawaiians back on ancestral land took a tentative step Tuesday toward allowing a resort casino to operate in Kapolei.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission, in a 5-to-4 vote, forwarded a bill that would allow for limited gambling on lands owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

But while the vote Tuesday approves the concept, the bill must still be sent to Gov. David Ige for his consideration in the administration’s 2021 legislative package. The measure faces an even tougher hurdle after that in the Legislature, where leaders of both chambers have indicated they are not keen on any gambling proposals.

OHA Candidate William Aila during forum held at the Windward Community College.
William Aila, chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, cast a tie-breaking vote to propose building a casino in Kapolei to help fund DHHL. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The proposal drew much discussion from the commissioners at meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Outside the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands offices in Kapolei, a small crowd organized by Sen. Kurt Fevella, protested the casino proposal.

William Aila, the commission chair and head of DHHL, cast the tie-breaking vote at Tuesday’s hearing.

He cited the financial woes facing the department and the state. He also said the bill may stand a better chance of clearing the Legislature in 2021 when state lawmakers are not facing elections.

Waiting until 2022 might also give gaming companies in Las Vegas a chance to organize a lobbying effort to kill the proposal.

“This is an opportunity to rescue ourselves,” Aila told the commission. “We stand at the precipice today to make a difference for future generations.”

Commissioners Randy Awo, Zachary Helm, David Kaapu and Patty Kahanamoku-Teruya voted “no.” The “aye” votes included Aila, Russell Kaupu, Pauline Namu‘o, Dennis Neves and Michael Kaleikini.

Under the current proposal, DHHL would get the majority of taxes assessed on the casino’s gaming revenues.

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