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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 28, 2010

Deal up some Hawaii hold 'em

By Charles Memminger

When it comes to opening a casino in Waikīkī, I feel a little bit like Walter Cronkite. Not the way he is now. I mean, I don't feel dead. (Although I don't exactly leap out of bed in the morning like a springbok anymore). I mean I feel kind of like Walter Cronkite when he went on television to say he was against the Vietnam War. That tipped the scale for the way the country felt about the war. President Lyndon Johnson allegedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America. And, wait, I've also lost my glasses. And my slippers. I've lost Cronkite, Middle America, my glasses and my slippers. Today totally sucks."

In various columns over the years, I've been against legalizing gambling in Hawai'i. A vast army of readers (roughly 327 people) have looked to me for guidance on this issue. Now I have reconsidered my position in light of the impending financial ruin of the state, and come to the conclusion that a casino in Waikīkī would be pretty nifty. I now believe that legalized gambling is necessary to the state's financial recovery, mainly because we need to do everything we can to get tourists to come to the Islands. And so, like Walter Cron-kite, I expect many of the anti-gaming folks to say, "When we've lost Charley, we've lost Middle Makakilo. And Middle Kāne'ohe. And Middle Honolulu."

I've never been against legalized gambling. I often stop over in Las Vegas when traveling, as I did just last year when I won a minor poker tournament. I've never really been against Hawai'i being in the gambling business. I suggested several times that the state build a casino in Las Vegas and name it Hawaii Hawaii. The idea was to get the money out of gamblers in Vegas and save wear and tear on Honolulu.

But it is clear now that we need to get tourists coming to the state: warm bodies wrapped in thick money belts. (Otherwise look for Furlough February, Pink-Slip September and Discharge December!)

We haven't been good at attracting visitors. First we banned smoking in bars and restaurants, a pastime enjoyed by most Asian tourists. Then we keep hitting visitors up with hotel room taxes and ice cube taxes and little-paper-umbrella-in-drink taxes and sales taxes ... Why don't we meet them on the tarmac and chase them back onto the planes with baseball bats?

There were a number of gambling bills floating around the Legislature, but they all look dead. Nevertheless, I support licensing a casino in Waikīkī and maybe some form of "Paradise Lottery." That alone would create thousands of local jobs and give tourists a reason to come. If the only thing Hawai'i offers is beaches and sunshine, they're just going to go to Baja or Aruba or Guam places with beaches, sun AND gambling.

Read Charles Memminger's blog at http://charleyworld.honadvblogs.com.