Lawmakers Bench Hawaii Sports Betting Bill for 2023

  • Hawaii Senate leaders said there were more pressing issues on the legislative agenda
  • A lobbyist told the committee that 276,000 people bet $670m a year illegally in Hawaii
  • The lobbyist later admitted that figures cited for Hawaii came from a national study
  • Committee chair Holt said it wasn’t worth putting communities at risk for $7m
Lawmakers in Hawaii have put the state’s online sports betting bill on the back burner for the rest of 2023. [Image:]

Committee unconvinced

A team of US sportsbook brands and high-profile betting supporters in Hawaii have failed to convince the state’s House Economic Development Committee about the benefits of a legal online wagering market.

Hawaii’s online sports betting bill is dead in the water

House members of the committee and its chair, Rep. Daniel Holt, effectively said on Wednesday that Hawaii’s online sports betting bill is dead in the water for the rest of 2023. According to Hawaii News Now, Senate leaders said there were more pressing issues on the legislative agenda than legalizing gambling and, as such, it won’t come before lawmakers again until 2024.

Lawmakers said the fact that 70% of US states have now legalized online sports betting gave Hawaii’s version a slim chance of passage this time around. Ultimately, that glimmer of hope turned into another false dawn.

Lobbyist caught out

Given the thin chance the bill had, Pat Gibbs, lobbyist for the Sport Betting Alliance, didn’t make matters easier when questioned on his sports betting figures for Hawaii.

Gibbs cited an Ernst and Young report to the committee, estimating that “276,000 people bet a combined total of $670m in illegal sports wagers each year in Hawaii, using bookies or offshore sites on their phones and computers.”

In response to a question about bettor tracking, Gibbs had to admit the figures came from a national study, and that:

we don’t have specific numbers” for Hawaii.

In response, State Rep. Elijah Pierick told the committee it didn’t matter either way. Affirming that both legal and illegal gambling are harmful, he argued that the “statistics are highly against” bettors.

DraftKings representative Rebecca London, meanwhile, used the opportunity to highlight how her firm watches for problem gambling, and encourages bettors to limit their playing time and spend. “What we find is that the most sustainable consumer base is folks that are doing it in a responsible fun way,” London told the committee.

Holt calls for pause

While London and company have months to refine their pitches, the bill’s failure is hard on Hawaii bettors, who have been seeing the same bad news every February for some time. It will be especially hard to swallow given the irony of Holt voting against the bill after recently supporting a system of local sports betting and poker parlors.

Holt’s demurral arrived in a bittersweet statement that online sports betting may be “a worthy cause” for Hawaii to pursue, but only in the future. The lawmaker added it might not be worth “putting our communities at risk” for $7m, the figure the industry estimated legal online sports betting could bring into Hawaii every year.

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