2023 Hawaii Sports Betting Bill Fails to Get Off the Ground

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jun 6, 2023 08:00 PM
2023 Hawaii Sports Betting Bill Fails to Get Off the Ground

Just as quickly as it came, the hope for sports betting in Hawaii also went. And no one's quite sure when any optimism might return. From the sound of things, in fact, Hawaii sports betting may be an ultra-distant possibility.

This doesn't technically deviate from The Aloha State's previous reality. They have long ranked among the staunchest holdouts in the country.

Recent trends have not changed their stance, either. As legal sports betting in the United States becomes the majority standard, Hawaii has virtually never given it serious consideration. Their approach has mirrored that from the folks in Alaska: Detached from the contiguous United States, and without any professional sports teams in their market, they have seldom viewed sports betting as a priority.

Yet, it appeared as if that might change entering 2023 legislative sessions. House Bill 344, which would have legalized online sports betting in Hawaii, was introduced and thoroughly discussed during these meetings. Not only that, but it was heavily lobbied for by some of the most recognizable names in the business. It even gained the approval of key officials inside the state legislature.

Ultimately, though, HB 344 didn't have nearly enough support to garner a serious vote, let alone cross the finish line. How did the process unfold? Why does Hawaii remain reluctant to legalize sports betting all these later? And what does this all say about the timeline for sports gambling in Hawaii? You've got questions. We've got answers.

This was the Most Serious Hawaii Sports Betting Push Yet

It can be difficult to discern legitimate attempts to legalize sports betting from obligatory ones. Certain states introduce legislature as almost a rite of passage—a ritual they carry out before shooting it down. To Hawaii's credit, this time around felt different. 

You know a state is at least open to the idea when they're hearing arguments from big-time lobbyists and key stakeholders are pushing the agenda. The 2023 Hawaii sports betting bill had both of these ingredients. DraftKings, one of the most popular online sports betting sites in the United States, made the case for HB 344 to the House Committee on Economic Development. Committee Chair Representative Daniel Holt was also among the biggest supporters of the bill.

In the end, the committee decided to defer HB 344. That's different from killing it altogether. Deferring it allows the state to revisit the terms later. HB 344 could technically serve as the framework for a future bill that legalizes sports betting in Hawaii.

This is a noticeable difference from past attempts to green light gambling inside the state. Hawaii has turned away more than a half-dozen different sports betting initiatives over the past three years alone. Some have enjoyed a similar amount of support, but HB 344 seems to have been given more floor time and consideration than any other proposal. DraftKings' involvement alone says it all.

Why Did the 2023 Hawaii Sports Gambling Bill End Up Flopping?

Though HB 344 was always painted as a medium-sized long shot, its viability fell apart when Representative Holt pulled his support. It wasn't immediately clear why he changed his mind. It also wasn't initially clear what concerns caused the House Committee of Economic Development to defer the bill as a group.

Now, however, we have the answer: The financial upside apparently wasn't large enough. Sam McQuillan provided all the pertinent details for Legal Sports Report:

"Sports Betting Alliance Counsel Pat Gibbs said [HB 344] had the potential to raise $6.7 million annually for the state, where an estimated 276,000 people bet offshore every year. 'I think maybe, at some point, this may be a worthy cause for us but at this point, $7 million a year may not be worth putting our communities at risk,' Holt said. 'There may be other opportunities in the future, but at this point we’re going to be deferring this measure.'

"Aside from Vice Chair Rachele Lamosao, who asked for more data on the offshore market, Representative Elijah Pierick was the only other lawmaker to ask a question. 'Can you help us understand how sports wagering would not harm the poor?' Pierick asked. 'I believe gambling is basically preying on the poor for sources of income.' [DraftKings government affairs manager Rebecca] London responded by going over the features on DraftKings app where users can self-impose limits and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to responsible gaming.'"

This is not the first time Hawaii has harped on the predatory nature of corporate sportsbooks. It won't be the last, either.

Offshore Gambling Could Hold the Key to the Future of Sports Betting in Hawaii

Vice Chair Lamosao has the right idea when requesting more information on the offshore betting market. Those figures can help Hawaii provide more accurate tax revenue estimates. There's also a chance more concrete data reveals that the current projections of $6.7 million annually are too low.

Access to reputable mobile wagering sites has never been more prevalent—regardless of where you live. Many sites from our reviews of the best online sportsbooks allow almost anyone in the United States to create an account. If 276,000 people in Hawaii are betting offshore every year right now, that number will increase once it's legalized domestically. That, in turn, means a $6.7 million profit margin per year may be on the lower end.

Consider legal sports betting in New Hampshire. Like Hawaii, they have an estimated population of 1.4 million people. Much like Hawaii again, they aren't home to any professional teams. And yet, New Hampshire has averaged over $18 million in additional tax revenue each year since the legalization of online sports betting in 2019. 

Perhaps Hawaii's number won't be that high. They traffic in a lot of tourists, after all. But that could also technically drive up their prospective earnings. At the very least, it seems fair to say that Hawaii sports betting revenue is being noticeably, if severely, underestimated. But for The Aloha State to truly understand how much, they may need to more data on how many residents—and tourists—are placing offshore bets while in town.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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