Poker Rooms May Be Coming to Hawaii

4 min read

Hear that? The surf of the Pacific Ocean churning the shoreline into foam and the sunrise kissing it with pink as the breeze shakes the palm fronds and ‘Uki ‘Uki pedals in ways that power whole-hearted epiphanies?

Legal live poker rooms may come to Honolulu — but probably not. (Image:

Oh you can’t, because you have been locked in a 27 hour Omaha session at an underground card room in Oahu with the great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of a Polynesian King who seems to get stronger and stronger with each turn and river?

Yeah, we get that, and that’s why we’re interested to hear that two Hawaiian lawmakers want to make live poker legal on the island of Oahu, which is the home to Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, and the historical WWII site the Arizona.

Poker by the surf

Reps. John Mizuno and Daniel Holt introduced a bill yesterday that would allow locally-owned businesses to open gambling parlors that offer poker games and sports betting.

Both lawmakers say they introduced the bill to fight the 70 to 100 underground gambling rooms that Holt says currently operates in Oahu.

“This is a very responsible proposition, ” Holt (D, Chinatown-Iwilei-Sand Island ) said at a news conference in a House of Representatives conference room at the state Capitol announcing the plan. “We’re taking an industry that is currently being unregulated and putting it into regulation and benefiting our communities at the same time.”

They also want to make sure that only businesspeople with local roots are allowed to open these parlors. The person with the most stake in the operations must have been a resident of Hawaii for at least 35 years.

The gambling parlors will be limited to 25K square-feet and up to 30 poker tables. That’s about the size of a Planet Fitness and Red Rock’s poker room in Vegas.

While the bill restricts the sports books and card rooms to Oahu, the draft also includes language that would allow the owners to go online within three years, according to Andrew Gomes of the The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Dubious partners?

Mizuno and Holt hired Eric Ford as a gaming consultant. He registered  Rise Hawaii Gaming LLC in late August, and spoke at the presser.

“What we are proposing for this new bill is something that’s never been done in the state of Hawaii, ” Ford said. “We are not proposing a casino. In Hawaii when you say the word ‘casino, ‘ everybody runs. It’s like saying ‘fire’ in a theater. This is not a casino … this is just a regular poker room /sports betting parlor.”

According to Hawaiian News Now, Ford is “involved” with Full House Poker, a poker room in Eugene, Ore. He told the assembled press that 20 poker tables could generate $8 to $12 million a year in taxes for the state.

As Mizuno and Holt’s “gambling expert,” Ford will be front-and-center, answering questions from the press, and doing who-knows-what with his Rise Hawaii Gaming.

But in 2013, Ford was sentenced to 20 months in prison by the Feds for operating a book out of the bottling company Aloha Springs Water, which he still owns, according to Dunn & Bradstreet.

The FBI even seized a Rolex watch Ford took as a collateral from one of his customers.

And according to the Hawaiian Free Press, his co-partner in Rise Hawaii Gaming was also one of his partners in crime, Kendale Limahai, who along with seven others were indicted or plead guilty as part of Ford’s crew.

Limahai is also a poker player, and cashed in an event at last year’s World Series of Poker. Ford and Limahia have seven WSOP cashes between them.

But in the long run, it probably won’t matter.

Hawaii is one of two states that explicitly prohibits any form of gambling, including the lottery. Its legislators have repeatedly shot down any bills that would bring legalized gambling to the islands, and odds are they aren’t going to change their minds in this case.


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