Historic funding shortfalls to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands are forcing a discussion among beneficiaries about potential ways to raise revenue. And that includes looking at the possibility of casino gambling.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, a state agency responsible for leasing homestead lots to Native Hawaiians, is proposing a casino resort in Kapolei. Randy Akau, President of the Kānehili Hawaiian Homestead Association in Kapolei, says this was the first he’s heard of it.
“My concern is that beneficiaries need to be at the table,” says Akau, “I know gaming can bring in a lot of things that are good and not good. One of the bright spots is jobs. I noticed that first opportunities will be given to Native Hawaiians. But we have to look at the social impact itʻll have.”
DHHL for years has been looking at various ways to raise revenue for its work from developing commercial properties to gambling-related proposals that have never really caught any traction.
Elmer Kaʻai, a former DHHL employee, says there’s more to the discussion than gambling.
“It’s not really about the gambling. It’s more about thinking outside the box about revenue generating,” says Ka’ai, “The longer the discussion goes on, the more and more people like myself whoʻll never get on a homestead.”
Kaʻai is one of nearly 29,000 Native Hawaiians on the waitlist for a homestead lot. The state agency has struggled to develop lots, in part because of the high costs.
DHHL Deputy Director Tyler Gomes says infrastructure alone runs upwards of $150,000 per lot.
“If we had to just develop the lots for those 29,000 individuals and just put in the infrastructure let’s not even count the vertical – that’s $150,000 at the minumum for 28,000 units is somewhere around $4.5 - $5 billion dollars,” says Gomes, “The Department hasn’t received $5 billion in 100 years of existence.”
The casino proposal is up for discussion at the Hawaiian Homes Commission meeting being held virtually online today and tomorrow.