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Hawaii is the only U.S. state where gambling of any form is completely prohibited, apart from charitable events approved by the state legislature. This strict anti-gambling stance raises questions for many visitors and residents about why gambling laws are so tight in the Aloha State.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Gambling is illegal in Hawaii primarily due to the state’s cultural values and historical opposition to betting and games of chance. Hawaiian leaders have opposed gambling since the 19th century, believing it leads to social problems. Concerns around organized crime and addiction continue to drive anti-gambling policies today.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the historical, cultural, economic, and political factors behind Hawaii’s gambling prohibition. We’ll look at early gambling in the islands, key events and laws that shaped anti-gambling sentiment over time, arguments for and against legalization, and the current prospects for changing one of the strictest betting bans in the world.

Early Gambling in Hawaii

inside the casino

Before we dive into the reasons why gambling is illegal in Hawaii, let’s take a look at the history of gambling in the islands. Gambling has been a part of Hawaiian culture for centuries, with ancient Hawaiians engaging in various forms of wagering.

Ancient Hawaiian Gambling

Ancient Hawaiians had their own unique gambling practices, which were deeply rooted in their spiritual and cultural beliefs.

One popular game was called “konane,” a strategy board game similar to checkers, played on a carved stone board. Another gambling activity was “ulu maika,” where players would roll stone disks along a path, aiming to get as close to a target as possible.

Arrival of Europeans Brought New Games

When Europeans arrived in Hawaii in the late 18th century, they brought with them new forms of gambling. Card games like poker and blackjack quickly gained popularity among the islanders.

These new games, along with the traditional Hawaiian gambling activities, were embraced by the locals and became an integral part of their social gatherings.

Rise of Plantation Gambling in the 1800s

In the late 1800s, Hawaii experienced a surge in gambling activities due to the rise of sugar plantations. As thousands of immigrant workers arrived from different parts of the world, they brought their own gambling traditions and games with them.

This led to a flourishing gambling scene, with gambling houses and saloons becoming common sights in Hawaiian towns.

However, as the negative social and economic consequences of gambling became apparent, the government took steps to regulate and eventually outlaw gambling in Hawaii. Today, Hawaii remains one of the few states in the United States where gambling is strictly prohibited.

To learn more about the history of gambling in Hawaii, you can visit, a comprehensive website that provides insights into the cultural and historical aspects of the islands.

Cultural Opposition and Early Bans

It is no secret that Hawaii holds a unique cultural identity, deeply rooted in the traditions and values of its native people. One of these values is a strong opposition to gambling.

Native Hawaiians have long believed that gambling negatively affects their community and undermines the principles of ‘ohana (family) and aloha (love and respect). This cultural aversion to gambling has played a significant role in the state’s decision to make it illegal.

Also read: How Do You Say Family In Hawaiian?

Native Hawaiian Values Against Gambling

For Native Hawaiians, gambling goes against their spiritual beliefs and the concept of pono, which means righteousness and balance. They view gambling as a practice that disrupts the harmony between individuals and their environment.

The negative consequences associated with gambling, such as addiction, crime, and financial ruin, are seen as direct threats to the well-being of their community.

Missionaries Frown on Betting

The influence of Christian missionaries in Hawaii during the 19th century also contributed to the opposition against gambling. The missionaries considered gambling as a sinful activity that went against their religious teachings.

They actively discouraged the practice and advocated for its prohibition to protect the moral fabric of society.

Lotteries Made Illegal in the 1840s

Early efforts to ban gambling in Hawaii can be traced back to the 1840s when the Hawaiian Kingdom officially made lotteries illegal.

This decision was motivated by concerns about the negative social and economic impacts of lotteries. The government recognized the potential for exploitation and corruption that accompanied these games of chance.

Later Laws Outlaw More Forms of Gambling

Over time, Hawaii enacted additional laws to outlaw various forms of gambling. In 1959, when Hawaii became a U.S. state, a constitutional provision was included to prohibit all forms of gambling. This provision was reinforced in 1978 when the state passed a law criminalizing gambling activities.

It is important to note that despite these strict laws, there have been occasional proposals to legalize gambling in Hawaii. However, these efforts have consistently faced strong opposition from the local community, reflecting the enduring cultural values and historical context that underpin the state’s stance against gambling.

20th Century: Strengthening Anti-Gambling Sentiment

During the 20th century, Hawaii witnessed a significant strengthening of anti-gambling sentiment, which ultimately led to the prohibition of gambling activities within the state.

This shift in public opinion can be attributed to various factors, including the statehood movement’s rejection of casinos, the influence of organized crime, and the state’s focus on tourism.

Statehood Movement Rejects Casinos

As Hawaii sought to become a state, there was a prevailing belief among its leaders that the image of a casino-driven economy clashed with the state’s desired identity.

The statehood movement aimed to present Hawaii as a family-friendly tourist destination with a unique cultural heritage, rather than a hub for gambling activities.

Consequently, the inclusion of casinos in the state’s economy was actively opposed, leading to the solidification of anti-gambling sentiments among its residents.

Mob Influence Leads to Crackdowns

Another significant factor that contributed to the prohibition of gambling in Hawaii was the influence of organized crime, particularly during the mid-20th century.

The presence of mobsters and their involvement in illegal gambling operations raised concerns about the potential negative impacts on society, including increased crime rates and corruption.

These concerns prompted law enforcement agencies to crack down on gambling activities and further cemented the state’s aversion to the industry.

Also read: The History And Influence Of The Mafia In Hawaii

Tourism Focus Keeps Gambling Banned

Throughout the 20th century, Hawaii’s economic focus shifted towards tourism as a primary industry. The state recognized the potential of its natural beauty, cultural attractions, and unique experiences to attract visitors from around the world.

In order to maintain this reputation and preserve the family-friendly image that had been cultivated, the state chose to keep gambling banned. The belief was that by avoiding the negative societal effects associated with gambling, Hawaii could continue to thrive as a top tourist destination.

For more information on the history of gambling in Hawaii, you can visit the official website of the Hawaii State Legislature at

Modern Debate: Arguments For and Against Gambling

Playing poker in a casino holding winning royal flush hand of cards concept for gambling, betting and winning

Pro-Gambling Views: Revenue and Regulation

Gambling has been a hotly debated topic in many societies, and Hawaii is no exception. Those in favor of legalizing gambling argue that it would bring significant revenue and economic benefits to the state.

By allowing casinos and other gambling establishments to operate legally, Hawaii would tap into a lucrative industry that could generate substantial tax revenues. This revenue could then be used to fund important public services such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure development.

Proponents also argue that legalizing gambling would allow for better regulation and oversight, reducing the risk of illegal activities associated with underground gambling operations.

Anti-Gambling Stance: Cultural Values, Addiction

On the other side of the debate, opponents of gambling in Hawaii emphasize the importance of preserving the state’s unique cultural values.

They argue that gambling goes against the spirit of aloha and the close-knit community that Hawaii is known for. Gambling can lead to social problems, addiction, and financial ruin for individuals and families.

Critics of gambling also point to the potential increase in crime rates and negative impacts on local businesses, as casinos may divert money away from other industries.

Additionally, there is concern that legalizing gambling could lead to an increase in problem gambling and gambling-related disorders, which can have devastating effects on individuals and their loved ones.

Complex Political Landscape

The issue of gambling in Hawaii is further complicated by the state’s unique political landscape. The debate often intersects with discussions about sovereignty, as some argue that decisions about gambling should be made by Native Hawaiian communities.

Others believe that the decision should rest with the state government, taking into account the opinions of the general population. The political dynamics and the complex relationship between different interest groups make it challenging to reach a consensus on the issue. As a result, the legalization of gambling in Hawaii remains a contentious topic that continues to spark passionate discussions.

Current Status and Future Outlook

Gambling has been illegal in Hawaii for decades, making it one of the few states in the U.S. with stringent anti-gambling laws. Despite periodic efforts to legalize gambling, these attempts have consistently failed to gain traction.

Periodic Efforts to Legalize Gambling Fail

Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to legalize gambling in Hawaii, ranging from proposals to establish casinos and poker rooms to allowing a state lottery. However, each time these proposals have been met with strong opposition and ultimately failed to pass legislation.

One of the main reasons for the failure of these efforts is the concern over the potential negative impacts of gambling. Opponents argue that legalizing gambling could lead to an increase in crime, addiction, and other social issues.

Additionally, some believe that gambling would tarnish Hawaii’s pristine image as a tropical paradise and discourage tourists from visiting.

It is worth noting that neighboring states, such as Nevada and California, have thriving gambling industries. This has led some proponents of legalized gambling in Hawaii to argue that the state is missing out on potential revenue and job opportunities that could be generated from a regulated gambling market.

Public Opinion Remains Split

Public opinion on gambling in Hawaii remains divided. While some residents see the potential benefits of legalized gambling, including increased tax revenue and job creation, others are concerned about the potential negative consequences.

Supporters of legalized gambling argue that it could help fund public education, infrastructure projects, and social services. They point to the success of gambling in other states, where it has contributed significantly to the local economy.

On the other hand, opponents emphasize the risks associated with gambling addiction and the potential for an increase in crime. They argue that the social costs of legalized gambling outweigh any potential economic benefits.

Any Changes Likely Incremental

Given the historical resistance to gambling in Hawaii and the ongoing debate surrounding its legalization, any changes to the current status quo are likely to be incremental.

It is possible that future proposals may focus on more limited forms of gambling, such as allowing online poker or establishing a state lottery. These smaller-scale changes could be seen as a compromise between those who support and oppose gambling.

However, it is important to note that even incremental changes would require overcoming significant hurdles, including legislative support and public approval. The complex nature of the issue and the deeply held beliefs of both proponents and opponents make the future outlook for gambling in Hawaii uncertain.


In the only state where gambling is fully outlawed, deep-rooted cultural opposition continues to trump economic arguments around legalizing betting and gaming.

While Hawaii’s anti-gambling stance may seem puzzling from the outside, it is closely intertwined with native values, religious beliefs, social priorities and a long history of banning games of chance.

Ongoing debates weigh these cultural factors against potential tax revenues and regulated gambling. For now, Hawaii’s exceptions remain limited, but incremental shifts toward allowing certain forms of gambling could develop in the future. Yet a full reversal seems unlikely given over 180 years of objection in the Aloha State.

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