Sports betting and most other forms of gambling are prohibited in Hawaii. The Aloha State is home to some of the strictest gaming laws in the country and therefore lacks anything resembling a gambling industry.
However, that may not remain the case forever. Some state lawmakers have expressed an interest in expanding Hawaii’s gaming options by introducing bills to legalize mobile sports betting, retail sportsbooks and online casinos. None of those efforts have yielded success, but they do demonstrate there is an appetite for change among some in the legislature.
Hawaii is home to zero sportsbooks, casinos, poker rooms, bingo halls, horse racing tracks or even a lottery. In short, gambling is outlawed across the board except for certain forms of social gambling in which the house takes no profit either directly or indirectly through fees, food sales, entertainment charges and so on.
State law also prohibits participating in unlawful gambling as a player. Under HI Rev Stat § 712-1223, knowingly participating in “any gambling activity” is a misdemeanor offense.
Hawaii law defines gambling as follows:
A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.
Hawaii interprets its gambling laws as applicable to mobile sports betting, online gambling and daily fantasy sports, resulting in a lack of online gaming options for residents. As such, new legislation will be needed to authorize any form of online betting.
Hawaii Daily Fantasy Sports
Hawaiians had access to fantasy sports sites up until early 2016. In January 2016, then Attorney General Dough Chin issued an opinion stating daily fantasy sports constitute illegal gambling under state law.
Less than two weeks later, Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro issued cease and desist letters to FanDuel and DraftKings. Both fantasy sites subsequently exited the Hawaiian market and never returned.
State legislators introduced legislation to exempt daily fantasy sports from Hawaiian gambling laws immediately following the Attorney General’s opinion but were met with strong opposition from anti-gambling groups. To this day, fantasy sports remain prohibited in Hawaii.
Prior to 2006, Hawaii restricted fantasy sports betting to “social” leagues in which no player received anything of value other than his personal winnings. Organizers of leagues were prohibited from taking a profit or otherwise charging people to participate; 100% of what was paid in had to be returned to winners in the forms of prizes.
Sports Betting in Hawaii
Hawaii sports betting may seem like a long shot, but a growing number of legislators have attached their names to bills seeking to explore the issue at the very least. First, there was a bill introduced in 2017 (HB 927) that sought to establish a commission that would have been tasked with examining the social and fiscal impacts of all forms of gaming, including sports betting.
Even that minor bill failed to gain any traction, but it wasn’t the last effort. In 2019, a group of twelve representatives signed their names onto a bill (HB 1107) that would establish the Hawaii Sports Wagering Corporation to regulate in-person and mobile betting in Hawaii.
The simple fact that the 2019 bill was able to attract the signatures of twelve representatives may be an indicator Hawaii’s stance against sports betting is beginning to soften.
Legal sports betting proponents still face significant headwinds, but the odds are better today than they were just a few years ago. A pair of bills introduced in the Hawaii Senate in early 2020 further bolster that sentiment even though progress has since stalled on both.
Lawmakers have also predicted interest in legal sports betting would increase now that the federal sports betting prohibition has been lifted. Hawaii Representative Sylvia Luke said it is difficult to gauge interest in sports betting considering Hawaii’s longstanding opposition to most forms of gambling, but that she does expect to see more legalization bills introduced in the future.
“I mean, bills do get introduced on a yearly basis of different types of gambling,” she said at the time. “And with this [Supreme Court ruling], I would anticipate more bills being
Hawaii Horse Racing Betting
Hawaii’s hostility to all forms of gambling extends to horse racing betting. Parimutuel wagering is not allowed in Hawaii and there are no active horse tracks in operation. When it comes to horse racing, Hawaii is a desert.
There have been several attempts to authorize parimutuel betting and horse racing over the years, but none have made it very far through the legislative process. Bills introduced in 1999, 2000, 2013 and 2015 seeking to legalize parimutuel horse racing betting all failed to gain any traction. There is clearly some amount of demand, but the anti-gambling contingent in Hawaii has been successful at shutting down all attempts to change state law on this issue.
Groups such as the Hawai’i Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (HCALG) remain steadfast in their opposition to any form of gambling coming to Hawaii – including horse racing betting. A strong anti-gambling culture in Hawaii among citizens and lawmakers alike makes it unlikely horse racing betting will be legalized any time soon for Aloha State residents.
Legalizing Online Gambling in Hawaii
There is currently little chance that Hawaii will change its stance on land-based or online gaming. The closest pro-gaming lawmakers came to changing the situation were bills proposed in 2013 and again in 2017. The 2013 bill never got traction and the 2017 bill suffered a similar fate.
The 2013 effort would have established the “Hawaii Internet Lottery and Gaming Corporation” to conduct, regulate and license online gambling within the state. SB 768 presented a solid case for legalizing online gaming in the state with the following text in its introductory paragraphs:
“The legislature also finds that tens of thousands of Hawaii residents are estimated to participate in illegal online gambling on unregulated internet web sites. These gambling web sites are operated by illegal offshore operators not subject to regulation or taxation in the United States. Questions often arise about the honesty and the fairness of the games offered to Hawaii residents, but neither federal nor Hawaii laws currently provide any consumer protections for Hawaii residents who play on these web sites.
Moreover, tens of millions of dollars in revenues generated from online gambling are being realized by offshore operators serving Hawaii residents, but no benefits are provided to the State. To protect Hawaii residents who gamble on the Internet, and to capture revenues generated from internet gambling in Hawaii, it is in the best interest of the State and its citizens to regulate this existing activity by authorizing and implementing a secure, responsible, and legal system for internet gambling.”
The bill never gained much support but it did hang around in the Senate for most of 2013. The last update posted on the Hawaii State Legislature website has the bill listed as “carried over to 2014 Regular Season.” That bill’s status remains unchanged years later.
A 2017 bill introduced by Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani on behalf of Senator Will Espero sought to renew the online gambling debate in Hawaii. Senate Bill 677 sought to legalize online gambling, establish the Hawaii Internet Lottery and Gaming Corporation and permit at least one authorized operator to hold online gambling games in Hawaii. The odds of this bill ever making it into law were known to be exceedingly low from the beginning, and the bill did indeed die before becoming law.
It’s possible online poker or gambling will make a third run in Hawaii at some point. The state does have a long anti-gambling history, but at least some lawmakers have shown interest in getting a piece of the tax revenue they know they’re missing out on with people visiting offshore poker sites and casinos.