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"Surprise" online poker bill in Hawaii

In what Hawaii media are calling a “surprise amendment”, a Hawaii state representative has introduced a proposal to regulate Internet poker games and poker tournaments in that state — and it’s already passed its first test.

The sponsoring representative is Angus McKelvey, a Maui Democrat. The bill is called SB755, and has already been voted through the Economic Revitalization and Business Committee and the Labor and Public Employment Committee. It’s now headed to Hawaii’s House Finance Committee.

The proposal is interesting considering Hawaii is currently a “state that otherwise bans gambling altogether,” according to Mark Niesse of the Associated Press.

Part of a larger bill
The proposal consists of language added to a larger bill in the state legislature. And, unpromisingly, the Internet poker proposal seems to have replaced a “bill that would have given tax breaks to parents buying back-to-school supplies for their children,” reports the Hawaii Reporter’s Jim Dooley.

That’s a bad way to start, but the bill may be written in a way that takes advantage of the situation. According to Dooley’s article, McKelvey said that “revenue raised by the poker games could pay for the school supplies tax breaks and other worthy programs.

If passed, the new measure would allow peer-to-peer Internet poker playing, involving “human players competing against other players from around the world in a virtual gaming room that is hosted by the licensed site.”

The bill specifically allows Texas Hold ’em and Omaha poker games “as a way to boost tourism and the economy,” Niesse writes.

Like all other recent states pondering Internet gambling regulations, there’s an economic incentive, which may lead to some tough licensing stipulations. Only two licenses would be allowed, and companies must bid a minimum of $100 million and “would have to pay 20 per cent of total wagers to the state.”

Debate ensues
The bill seems to have been snuck in at the last moment, explaining its committee approval at such an early stage. Democrats dominate the committee; the Republican minority members opposed the bill.

Some interesting discussion on the legality of online poker in Hawaii was the result. “You can gamble in Hawaii today online. So there is gambling legally in Hawaii online,” said Representative Tom Brower of Waikiki. “People are doing it. There’s not a law against it, is my understanding. There is not a law that says you may not gamble online in Hawaii.”