Is Sports Betting Legal in Hawaii?

Many who plan a trip-of-a-lifetime pick these Pacific islands as that destination. "You haven't been to paradise until you've visited Hawaii," reads the marketing slogan.

The Hawaiian islands are known for their breathtaking landscape, tropical foliage and beautiful beaches. But don't plan on betting on the big game here. Gambling laws are relatively strict. Authorities prohibit lotteries, horse races and sports betting. Even bingo is illegal. The law also prohibits gambling on cruise ships within Hawaii's water boundaries.

The state was formed in 1959, and gambling has always been against the law here. No casinos, no charity gambling, no lottery and no major sports teams.

Online gambling is not defined in the state of Hawaii gambling laws, so it is safe for residents to bet on the Super Bowl and other sports events online at top-ranked offshore sites like Bovada. It is also the biggest reason why a new sports betting bill was introduced in state legislature in January 2019, but gambling bills have been proposed in the state many times before with no success.

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Betting Laws in Hawaii

Hawaii has eight major islands, and the Aloha State as a whole is home to more than 1.4 million people. Honolulu is the state capital and the largest city with a population of about 350,000 residents.

Hawaii gambling laws — or the enforcement of them — are regulated at the state level. All legalized gambling in Hawaii is limited to social gambling, and even that has plenty of restrictions. Social gambling is permitted as long as it's not committed in a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub or any business establishment or public place. The minimum gambling age in the state is 18 years old.

Hawaiian laws don't just prohibit casinos and gambling events, they also ban slot machines even if it's only for display or collection purposes. But why? Why is the state so strict on gambling?

Many believe it's because of Hawaiian tradition and culture which values family above everything else. Most believe gambling would have a serious impact on the family atmosphere, especially in one of the world's most popular vacation spots.

Dianne Kay, president of Hawaii Coalition against gambling, said people don’t come to Hawaii just to gamble.

“It would be sad if we destroyed the beautiful ambiance we have here," she said.

One of the most recent attempts to advance gambling in the state was in 2017. Sen. Will Espero became the latest in a long list of politicians to try and legalize the industry when he proposed a bill that would open up the possibility for gambling on land-based Hawaiian properties a couple of times a year. The bill did not advance in state legislature.

Hawaii Sports Betting Laws

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting in May 2018, many states — like New Jersey and Pennsylvania — immediately put the wheels in motion to develop legislation to regulate the industry within their jurisdictions. The state of Hawaii was certainly not one of them, but that may be slowly changing.

In a surprising move in January 2019, lawmakers introduced a new sports betting bill for the state. Proponents of the bill cited the loss of tax revenue to offshore online sites like Bovada as the reason for the unexpected proposal.

The extensive piece of legislation would serve to create the Hawaii Sports Wagering Corporation and a board of seven directors to oversee sports betting in the state. It also outlines the request for proposal process for determining a vendor for the infrastructure, since none currently exist in Hawaii. The selected provider will have the enormous task of creating an entire sports betting establishment from nothing.

The corporation’s board of directors will also be asked to come up with rules and regulations governing a variety of topics such as:

  • Types of wagers allowed,
  • Physical location where sports wagering may occur,
  • Forms of payment accepted and prohibited,
  • How wagers are graded winners or losers,
  • Manner and time of payment,
  • Responsible gambling,
  • Conduct of the chosen sports wagering operator,
  • The sports wagering platform, and
  • “Any and all other matters necessary” to ensure a successful sports betting operation.

Could Hawaii have a new sports betting industry in the next year or so? It's possible. Lawmakers in Hawaii recently conducted hearings on sports betting. The debate has just begun, but this might be the first piece of gambling legislation that finally reaches the finish line.

Hawaii's Favorite Sports Teams

There are no professional sports teams in Hawaii, but the state did host the NFL's Pro Bowl from 1980 to 2016. The league recently moved its all-star game after signing a multi-year deal with Orlando, Fla.

The PGA Tour currently makes two annual stops on the islands in January — the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui and the Sony Open in Honolulu — with purses of more than $6 million.

Hawaii's most popular sports are surfing and canoeing, but its favorite teams come from the University of Hawaii. The school, which is located in Honolulu, is home to college football's Rainbow Warriors. The team, which has won four conference titles, plays its home game at Aloha Stadium.

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