Poker Laws in Hawaii

Important HI Notes

  • Players from HI can legally play at offshore poker sites
  • Online poker’s chance not as bleak as people think
  • The state currently has no forms of legal gambling
  • Offshore internet poker rooms are currently the only option
  • Home poker games allowed provided no one makes a profit

Cliff Notes

  • 2022
  • 0 never
Last updated: July 17, 2018 by Savanah
A bill, SB 677, to legalize online poker in Hawaii was introduced on January 20, 2017 by Senator Will Espero but it did not advance in the state legislature. In 2016, Hawaii’s Attorney General Doug Chin deemed online daily fantasy sports (DFS) wagering illegal in their state and ordered DFS companies to cease and desist. However, a bill calling for DFS legalization and regulation has been introduced in the state legislator. This bill calls for DFS sites to be licensed by the state and to pay an annual registration fee of $25,000. Additionally, a bill has been introduced to pass a state lottery. Some state lawmakers are pushing for gambling expansion since Hawaii is one of two states with no legal forms of gambling; Utah being the other state.

Hawaii is one of two states with no forms of legalized gambling; Utah being the other. It could be awhile until they pass internet poker, although they have introduced a bill this year. Hawaiians have been known to play poker at the highly popular BetOnline website.

It is illegal to operate an online poker site in the state of Hawaii. As with all forms of gambling in the Aloha State, no form of online gambling is legal within the state and there is no framework in the physical or planning stages that would allow this form of gambling now or in the future. There is no licensing structure for online poker operators, nor are there any current bills in the pipeline that seek to create a regulatory authority for online gambling. Offshore online poker rooms report, however, that players from Hawaii regularly visit their sites and play the game for real money which is legal to do.

Future Outlook of Online Poker in Hawaii – Estimated date of legalization: 2022-2023

The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in Hawaii on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.

Hawaii Gambling News

One of the states with the most draconian laws governing gambling in the United...

Hawaii is the latest state to make a push to introduce legalized online poker...

Recent Activity
Hawaii has the dubious honor of being one of only two states in the US that has no regulated form of gambling; Utah being the other state.  However, a bill (SB 677) to legalize online poker in Hawaii was introduced on January 20, 2017 by Senator Will Espero. Although it didn’t advance in the state legislature, this is a positive sign for the future.

One of the main reasons why other states are seeking to introduce online poker is due to the direct threat of competition on their own gambling industries by neighboring states.  This is a problem that Hawaii does not face (due to its physical location, and also because it simply does not have a gambling industry to begin with). As such, this would not be a factor that lawmakers would consider if the question of online poker comes up.

It should be noted, however, that a number of attempts have been made in recent years to introduce some type of online gambling regulations.

In 2011, efforts were made to change the landscape of gambling in Hawaii through Senate Bill 755 [A]. The bill essentially tried to redefine Texas Hold ’em and Omaha as games of skill and would have allowed state run organizations to hold tournaments and benefit from the revenues.  In addition, there was also talk of introducing an online poker platform, with operators required to pay an astronomical fee.

SB 755 failed to obtain a hearing by the House Finance Committee, with the President for the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, Dianne Kay, stating at the time that, “Legalized gambling would introduce an undesirable element to our islands, and would have a highly detrimental effect on the tourist industry.”

In early 2012, when the Department of Justice issued its change of opinion regarding the interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act (that it now only applies to sports betting and allows all other types of online gambling), Hawaiian lawmakers Faye P. Hanohano, Agnus McKelvey and Joseph Souike jointly co-sponsored HB 2422 [B] which would allow the establishment of an Hawaii internet lottery and the introduction of online gambling.  The bill was proposed in conjunction with another, namely HB 231, specifically allowing citizens aged 18 years and over to play lottery games, poker and casino games.  Allocated funds were to be used to improve public schools and universities, introduce scholarships and support rural residency programs and problem gambling charities.

However, HB 2422 failed to advance in the state and was announced “dead” by a clerk at the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Most recently, Democratic Representative of Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard co-sponsored legislation introduced by Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz which seeks to reinstate the original meaning of the Wire Act.  The Restoration of America’s Wire Act [C] seeks a blanket ban on all forms of online gambling.  Gabbard said with the introduction of the bill: “There are many concerns that have been raised by the FBI and state attorneys general, with regard to abuse and money laundering. The Internet Gambling Control Act of 2014 will restore protections against criminal activity and misuse of online gaming platforms to pre-2011 interpretation of the law. This affects states like Hawaii directly that prohibit any kind of gambling.”

History of Gambling in Hawaii

Late 1800s – early 1900s – Horse racing enjoyed by Hawaiian royalty, rich landowners and plantation workers.

King Kalakaua founds the Hawaiian Jockey Club to organize and regulate horse racing in the state.

Kapiolania Park Racetrack opens, holding its annual Rosita Cup under its closure.

Kapiolania Park Race Track demolished.

Last official race at the racing track on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach held.

late 1940s – Kailua Race Track popular among military personnel during the war.

Attempts made to revive horse racing in Kapiolani Park fail.

Attempts to allow horse racing on the island of Maui fail to pass in House of Representatives.

Attempts made to declare poker as a game of skill in Hawaii and to introduce online gambling through SB 755 fail.

Attempts to introduce online gambling after the reinterpretation of the Department of Justice Wire Act fail to advance in Hawaii.  Also, House Bill 2422 introduced, seeking the establishment of a Gambling Commission and internet lottery – however, the bill failed.

Rep. Joseph Souki, the current House speaker, sponsored a bill that would have established a casino in Waikiki.

Rep. Cindy Evans introduced a bill that would have paved the way for slot machines at airports for departing passengers.

A bill for daily fantasy sports (DFS) regulation was introduced as well as a bill to allow for a state lottery, but neither was passed.

On January 20th, a bill (SB 677) to legalize online poker in Hawaii was introduced by Senator Will Espero.

Land Based Poker in Hawaii

The laws governing gambling in Hawaii are the same laws which cover poker by default.  Gambling, and therefore poker playing, is defined under Section 712-120 (4) as: “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.”

The law goes on to define a contest of chance as, “any contest, game, gaming scheme or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein.”

With such strict laws, the question remains: Is it possible to enjoy a game of poker in Hawaii in any form?  If you’re looking to play real money poker in a public gambling establishment or online, then the answer is no.  The law clearly states that you are not allowed to play the game for stakes in a live or online setting.

However, there is a small loophole in the law, and that is the fact that social gambling is allowed under very specific rules.  You are allowed to take part in poker games where everyone is on level terms and no cut is given to the house.  No corporation may benefit from the social game (for example, by serving drinks or food) and the game may not be played in public or in a business.  All players need to be 18 years old or more. As such, a home poker game – under these restrictions – would be considered legal.

Gambling Laws in Hawaii

The laws that govern gambling in Hawaii are spelled out under the section entitled Land Based Poker in Hawaii above.   In general, the law states that staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or uncontrollable future contingent to receive something of value is considered illegal gambling.  No horse racing or off-track betting is allowed, nor is dog racing or off-track betting.  Any form of gambling aboard ships is considered illegal under Hawaiian laws, as is the possession of gambling devices, such as slot machines.

It is illegal to possess gambling records, to promote gambling and to run a bookmaker operation.

The only type of gambling permitted is social gambling, which may not take place in a hotel, or other similar public place.  Naturally, players of social games need to be of majority age.

In April 2014, the Honolulu City Council sought to tighten existing laws, making it illegal to own a gambling machine in a bid to crack down on illegal gambling in the capital.  The bill, proposed by councilman Joey Manahan wants to give law enforcement more tools to counter the problem, and will make it a, “misdemeanor to manage, maintain, produce, possess or use the machines” according to West Hawaii Today [D]. “It would be punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $1,000 fine.”

Legal Gambling in Hawaii

Casinos in Hawaii

There are no legal casinos in Hawaii, despite the fact that over the years a number of lawmakers have shown that the introduction of a controlled and regulated gaming establishment would add much needed revenue to the state coffers.

In 2012, HB 2788 [E] was introduced by Rep. Joe Souki that sought to create a giant, stand alone casino (without a hotel) on Waikiki.  The operator would receive a 20 year license.  The measure also called for the creation of a Hawaiian Gaming Control Commission, imposing a 15% wagering tax on the potential casino’s gross receipts.  Proponents noted that the casino could bring in much needed employment opportunities for locals, regulate gambling and help the economy.  However, opponents called slot machines the “crack cocaine of gambling” and eventually succeeded in halting the advancement of the bill.

Racing in Hawaii

Racing [F] was always considered a popular sport in Hawaii, starting in the late 1800’s, especially among the region’s royalty, rich landowners and plantation owners and several of the islands boasted horse racing tracks.  Around the 1950s, after the war, the sport died out. Over the years, a number of efforts were made to bring racing back to Hawaii, however they were met with strong resistance by islanders who did not want to bring legalized gambling to the area.  Today, the only place that horse racing can be seen is at some of the local rodeos such as the 4th of July Rodeo on the Big Island.

Lotteries in Hawaii

Hawaii is one of six states that do not have a lottery, although attempts in the past have been made to change this [G].  House Bill 2422 sough to create an internet lottery and gaming corporation which would have, “provided consumer protections and capture additional revenues for the benefit of the State that are currently flowing offshore to unregulated internet gambling operations.”  The lottery would have overseen, “games of chance and games of skill, including lottery, poker and casino games.”  The bill did not pass.

Polls show that Hawaiians are practically evenly split between those in favor of a state lottery and those against it.

Social Gambling in Hawaii

The only real form of gambling permitted under Hawaiian law is social gambling, which is governed by statutes 712-1231 [H].  Social gambling under the law is:

“gambling in which all of the following conditions are present: (1) Players compete on equal terms with each other;  and (2) no player receives, or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or profit, directly or indirectly, other than the player’s personal gambling winnings; and (3) No other person, corporation, unincorporated association, or entity receives or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value, or any profit, directly or indirectly, from any source, including but not limited to permitting the use of premises, supplying refreshments, food, drinks, service, lodging or entertainment; and (4) it is not conducted or played in or at a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, cocktail lounge, restaurant, massage parlor, billiard parlor, or any business establishment of any kind, public parks, public buildings, public beaches, school grounds, churches or any other public area; and (5), None of the players is below the age of majority; and (6) the gambling activity is not bookmaking.

Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
(C) Copyright, 2018

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