Hawaii lawmaker proposes taxing vacation packages in Las Vegas, other legal gambling destinations

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 11:46 PM PST
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Hawaii lawmakers are eyeing changes that could make a trip to Las Vegas more expensive for Islanders.

The bill proposed by state senator Stanley Chang argues that Hawaii residents spend hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling in other places like Las Vegas, and in return, there’s no benefit to Hawaii.

“Hawaii is a non-gambling state, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem with gambling addiction,” Chang said.

The bill originally included banning advertisements for all Vegas casinos and hotels. That portion was eliminated Thursday after the state attorney general said that would be unconstitutional.

However, lawmakers are moving forward with the proposed 30 percent tax on vacation packages that promote gambling.

“Those room nights for example will provide a revenue stream to address gambling addiction here in Hawaii,” Chang said.

No hotel is more popular for Hawaii tourists than The California in downtown Las Vegas.

“It is an ingrained part of the culture at this point to want to vacation in Las Vegas,” professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s College of California Cynthia Van Gilder said.

In 2018, as a fellow at UNLV, Van Gilder published a detailed report on Hawaiian gaming tourism and The California Hotel.

They found that Boyd Gaming, which owns ‘The Cal’, chartered four planes a week from Hawaii as part of the vacation package.

“Packages are extremely popular for folks who stay at The Cal,” Van Gilder said.

Van Gilder believes a 30 percent tax would price some out but wouldn’t change the desire to vacation in Las Vegas.

She thinks The Cal would remain popular, but it could impact secondary properties for Hawaii tourists like Fremont Casino and Hotel.

Hawaii lawmakers voted to keep the tax alive to fund research and addiction programs, but the amount could change.

Legal challenges could prevent the bill from moving forward.

A national expert told senators that little is known about gambling addiction in Hawaii.

“We need to do a better job of even taking the temperature,” Ray Cho from Rutgers Center on Gambling Studies said. “The Department of Health said it has no data on gambling addiction in Hawaii.”

Boyd Gaming opposes the bill and told FOX5 Wednesday that the section on advertising raised constitutional concerns. With the changes to the proposal, a spokesperson told FOX5 Thursday they are reviewing the revised legislation.