Hawaii Gambling & Poker Laws

Hawaii Gambling / Poker Laws
Legal Hawaii Gambling and Poker Laws

Hawaii may not have been swept up in the online poker boom like some states, but there are still tens of thousands of Hawaiians who have tried their luck at online poker's virtual tables.  Even today, Hawaii and online poker continue to be a great match, with hundreds of new players signing on to play cash games and tournaments online. 

If you have questions about how to join them, read on for more about online poker and the law in Hawaii, how gambling is approach by the government in Hawaii and an index of credible resources that will help you learn all you ever wanted to know about Hawaii and online poker.

Update as of 2016

This section is an updated version of the original article. While the the information on this page is correct, some new legislation might be in effect since thie page was originally written. We've left the orginal article in tact below the new information.

Establishing a State Lottery

In 2016 alone, 15 gaming bills have been proposed in the Hawaii State Legislature. Most of the bills pass their first reading and one is still being considered. Three of these bills (HB 1830, HB 2536, and SB 2626) involved legalization of a state lottery.

Fantasy Sports Bills

Three bills (HB 2111, SB 2429, and B2722) involve fantasy sports in Hawaii. Of these, two of the bill seek to make fantasy sports illegal in Hawaii. A third bill would regulate the DFS industry. Ironically, the same senator sponsored a bill to ban fantasy sports and regulate it: Democrat Gilbert Keith-Agaran.

Hawaii State Horse Racing Board

SB 1373 would establish a PILOT for horse racing in Hawaii, while establishing a State Horse Racing Board. The seven senators who sponsored the bill were Donovan Dela Cruz, Brickwood Galuteria, Kaiali'i Kahele, Michelle Kidani, Clarence Nishihara, Maile Shimabukuro, and Gilbert Keith-Agaran. In a 25-member senate, a bill sponsored by 7 members has a pretty good chance of passing.

Slot Machines in Airports

HR 71, sponsored by Cindy Evans, would legalize "amusement concessions" in airports. Essentially, slot machines would be placed in Hawaii's airports, which would target tourists and business travelers from out-of-state. Most gamblers know that airport slots have the worst odds of all. Terminals have such a high turnover of customers; you don't really need to build a loyal customer base.

If HR 71 passed, the revenues generated would go into the airport revenue fund. Representative Evans's bill was carried over from the 2015 legislative session, but it does not appear to have received enough support to go to the floor of the house.

Most of the remaining bills had to do with tax relief on winnings in out-of-state venues and nuisance abatements on gambling offenses. While there seemed to be plenty of activity from lawmakers on the gambling-related subjects, few of the proposals seemed close to passing. Hawaii remains, alongside Utah, one of only two states with a 100% ban on gambling.

Illegal Card Games, Sports Bets, and Cockfighting

Illegal gambling is another matter. Roman Kalinowski, the senior staff writers for the Ka Leo Hawai'i, the campus newspaper for the University of Hawai'i Manoa, wrote in 2015 that "cockfighting, sports betting, video gambling machines and backroom card games are available to locals and tourists willing to track them down."

Mr. Kalinowski's assertion was in an opinion piece, but a look through old stories on Legal US Poker Sites gives an indication the student writer is right. A number of illegal gambling rings have been busted in the past 3 years, and some of those rings have been for tens of millions of dollars of cash. Those gaming rings involved sophisticated online betting tools, as well.

Sumner LaCroix, an economics professor at University of Hawai'i at Manoa, said that the prohibition has led to a significant underground economy. Estimates range that underground gaming in Hawaii might involve $700 million to $7 billion of action per year, or between 1% and 10% of Hawaii's GDP.

As recently as 2014, the Director of Research for Gambling Compliance, Chris Krafcik, predicted Hawaii's legislature would consider legalizing online gambling. Nothing happened in 2014, but experts continue to believe Hawaii might one day legalize some forms of gambling. Hawaiian residents most often mention a state lottery as a starting place.

Playing Online Poker in Hawaii

Legal Online Poker Sites for Hawaiians

When we say legal poker sites, we're referring to sites with a proper license issued by a qualified regulatory body.  If you play on other sites, you're risking your bankroll.  That's why we only list legal poker rooms in our picks for the best Hawaiian poker sites, and then we winnow that group to include just the top rooms with the best bonuses and promotions.  The result is our list of the best legal online poker rooms in Hawaii for real-money play:

What Sites Take Poker Players From Hawaii Online?

Nearly every real money online poker room takes players from Hawaii.  This does not include rooms that don't accept any players from the US, but all poker sites that let American players participate in real money online games also take players from Hawaii.  Players from states like New York and Washington aren't as fortunate, as they face sign up restrictions at most sites, but poker players from Hawaii are welcome at rooms across the net. For a complete list of the best sites, check out our real money USA poker page.

Online Poker Law for Hawaii

With no case law concerning online poker or any record of arrests related to playing online poker, it's difficult to reach a final conclusion on the legality of online poker in Hawaii. If you're playing online poker in Hawaii and want to understand how state law might impact you, we've developed this brief overview of the most important parts for online poker players.  
Note: Players should always seek professional legal help for anything other than casual questions regarding the law. 

  1. Hawaiian law takes a simple and clear position on gambling: None is legal in the state.  As a result, the definition of gambling employed in state becomes very important.
  2. The definition of gambling (Section 712-1220(1)) is a pretty standard one and involves any bet of something of value upon what the law calls a "contest of chance."
  3. Some might argue that poker is not a contest of chance, and that may well be true in the general sense.  Hawaiian law, however, has a specific definition of contest of chance that appears to encompass poker: "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" (Section 712-1220(3))
  4. Engaging in gambling (as defined by Hawaiian law) is a misdemeanor offense (Section 712-1223). 
  5. Social gambling (and home poker games) are legal (Section 712-1231), but only under very strict conditions that would seem to preclude online poker from finding shelter under the exemption.

To learn more, review the complete Hawaiian statutes here [1].

Hawaii's Chances of Regulating Online Poker

As you probably have guessed by now, there's little in Hawaii's history that suggests the state is a likely candidate to regulate online poker. With such strict attitudes toward all types of gambling enshrined in the law, a bill that regulated online poker would face substantial hurdles.

That's unfortunate, because we believe that a local influence in regulation is key to developing online poker rooms that customers can trust and enjoy.  Despite the obvious advantages of regulating online poker, it seems as if the Hawaiian government simply doesn't have an interest in providing residents with a locally licensed and clearly legal online poker option.

Hawaii Gambling Overview

Quick Background for Hawaiian Gambling

Gambling seems popular in Hawaii.  Many of the news articles discussing Hawaii and gambling claim that Las Vegas is known as the "ninth island" of Hawaii.  We can't speak directly to the truth of that claim, but it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch for a region with such strong gambling roots. 

For example, horse racing was once the dominant form of entertainment among the Hawaiian elite.  In fact, nearly a dozen race tracks called Hawaii home during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  That trend died out in the 1950s, and with it went the last remnants of regulated gambling in Hawaii.  Today, Hawaii is one of just two US states (along with Utah) that offer absolutely no regulated gambling.

Hawaii's Regulated Gambling Industry

As Hawaii does not have any regulated gambling, there's little to say on this score.

Hawaii's Regulated Online Gambling Industry

Online gambling is also not regulated in any way by the government of Hawaii.  The state did take some steps toward passing an online gambling bill in 2010, but that effort stalled and the prospects for regulated online gambling in Hawaii within the next few years seem slim at best.

Recent Hawaii Gambling Updates

Hawaii has been engaged in a political tug-of-war over gambling expansion (or, to be more accurate, introduction) in the state.  An effort in 2010 [2] to bring a casino to Hawaii failed, but legislators are taking another crack at the issue [3] with a bill that would research the matter and generate proposals.

Useful Sites for Hawaii Gambling Research

FindLaw: Hawaiian Gambling Law Overview [4].  A handy pocket guide to the basics of Hawaiian gambling law along with links to legal synopsis to all 50 states (not poker-specific).

History of Hawaiian Horse Racing [5]. An in-depth look at the legal, social and cultural history of horse racing in Hawaii.  Covers recent legislative attempts to bring legal betting to the state's tracks.

Gambling in Hawaii and Utah [6].  Scholarly paper from the Gaming Law Review and Economics journal.  Covers the history and development of gambling in the only two states (Hawaii and Utah) that have no forms of regulated gambling whatsoever.

Hawaii's Role in Poker's Development

Relatively isolated from the rest of the United States and lacking a develop gambling industry, Hawaii has played a minor role in the history of poker.  The state produced no World Series of Poker champions in 2012, and no poker players of national note (that we could uncover) hail from Hawaii.  The one link from the newest US state to one of the oldest US games: Wikipedia claims that "Hawaii" is a hand nickname for QJ - because if you play it too much, you'll end up losing about what a vacation to the islands costs.

Sources & Citations For This Article on Hawaii Online Poker