Hawaii Police Vow to Raid Illegal Game Rooms in Honolulu

Honolulu Illegal Game Rooms - Hawaii Poker Clubs

Bradley Chiba, a member of the Kauai Police Commission, was convinced in 2014 of booking illegal Super Bowl bets.

Honolulu police announced they would step up enforcement of Hawaii’s gambling law. Currently, Hawaii is one of two US states (alongside Utah) which has a categorical ban on all forms of gambling.

Law enforcement officials on Oahu, the largest Hawaiian island, told KITV.com they plan to raid illegal poker games and slot machine operations. Police siad they believe at least 100 illegal gambling dens are operational in Honolulu any given day.

While Honolulu police have a long history of raiding illegal gambling operations, robust gaming laws require constant enforcement procedures. As one operator is shut down and prosecuted, another one steps in to fill the void. The lure of profit for slots parlors, card game operators, and bookmakers is too great.

Honolulu PD Statement on Game Rooms

The Honolulu Police Department gave a statement on the coming wave of enforcement: “Game rooms affect people of all ages and social economic levels. We sometimes hear people say that gambling is harmless form of entertainment, however we know that game rooms are often the hubs of illegal activity.”

The statement from the HPD is a window into the thinking of most Hawaiian officials over the generations. The Hawaiian Constitution states that its ban on gambling is to protect the “morals” of the society. Gambling, to the typical Hawaiian official, is a vice crime.

That attitude does not imply a total ban on card games, though. Poker is legal, if the poker game is organized among friends, family members, and neighbors. Any attempts to turn a card game into a commercial enterprise is illegal, though.

Poker Is a “Social Activity”

Under Hawaii gaming law, poker is legal if it is played a “social activity”. It is not illegal to bet on a game of poker, so long as no third-party organizer makes a profit off the game. Individual gamblers can win money from Texas Hold’em sessions, but no one can organize the game in order to collect a rake.

The law against a poker rake applies to illegal poker rooms, poker clubs with seat licenses, online card rooms, or mobile poker sites. If someone collects a rake from a card session in Hawaii, it is illegal.

Are Hawaiian Poker Clubs Legal?

Cardplayer discussed the type of poker clubs which have sprung up in Texas, which charge for “seat rentals” or refreshments. Those kind of fees fall under the Hawaiian ban on gambling. Seat rental fees are considered the same as a poker rake.

Despite the poker ban, Hawaiian card players continue to show significant interest in Texas Hold’em. This past year, the World Series of Poker released statistics which showed that Hawaiians were ranked 32nd among US states for buy-in fees at live organized poker events. Those entry fees, along with the existance of 100 illegal gaming operations in one city, show the interest in legal poker would be there, if authorities did not ban the activity.

Senate Bill 677

Thus, it should not be a complete surprise that State Senator Michelle Kidani introduced Senate Bill 677 earlier this year, a proposed law which would legalize online gambling. Kidani’s bill would have created the “Hawaii Internet Gambling and Lottery Corporation“, which would have provided for legal online gambling to the people of the state. Had it been signed into law, the Hawaiian online gambling bill would have gone into effect on July 1, 2017.

Sen. Michelle Kidani’s bill would have created funds for “capital improvements at public schools and the University of Hawaii system”. The bill also would have funded scholarships, as well as educational loan repayments for medical students who spend at least 10 years (after graduation) practicing medicine in Hawaii. SB677 would have provided funding for family practice rural residency program, along with watershed protection.

Finally, SB677 called for systematic measures to reduce problem gambling and promote responsible gaming. The bill did not gain traction in the Hawaii Senate, so it never received a vote.

Senate Bill 204

Sen. Kidani also introduced SB 204, which would have legalized online fantasy sports in the state. The bill would have instituted an “online fantasy sports registration and monitoring program” under the auspices of the Hawaii attorney general.

The bill was introduced by Senator Kidani, Sen. Will Espero, Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro. SB204 had a companion bill in the Hawaii House of Representatives, HB855.