Ways To Boost Our Isle Economy

We could allow some gambling in Hawaii. Graphic from Bob Jones

We could allow some gambling in Hawaii. Graphic from Bob Jones

Here’s something BIG we’ve missed out on. It’s called “medical tourism.”

A million-and-a-half Americans will travel somewhere this year for bone, heart or cosmetic surgery — where their convalescence includes sun or fun plus a tax break. Yes, the IRS lets you deduct airfare and $50-a-night lodging expense if your primary travel reason is medical.

And now Hawaii travel agents are being enticed to send clients to South Korea to one of two Inha University hospitals on Korean Airlines as a “medical package tour.” You get a face lift or whatever and recuperate while sightseeing.

(Side note: the morpheme for that hospital name Inha is “In” for Incheon city and “Ha” for Hawaii.)

Medical tourism is a $20 billion-a-year business. About 15 years ago, then-Gov. Ben Cayetano proposed that we become the “health center of the Pacific” to get some of that clean loot.

Nothing ever happened.

Come on, people! There’s some form of gambling in almost every country save a few Islamist holdouts. Even Iraq has it! Our no-gambling attitude is hypocritical because we have one of the “gamblingest” American populations.

Police here got so tired of busting poker games that we passed a “social gambling” law that leaves a convenient loophole — if the house isn’t taking a cut (yeah, right!), it’s just us folks playing some friendly poker or craps.

We have an opportunity this legislative year to do better. First steps could be dinner cruises with onboard gambling — obviously aimed at moneyed tourists — and a Waikiki casino (maybe at the convention center?) open only to those registered as hotel guests.

None of this should feed the fears of those who think gambling would drain our least-able-to-afford-it people. I call it no-harm gambling.

And if you see a casino or gambling boats as incarnate evils, think of how much more damaging a lottery would be. That appeals mainly to the ever-hopeful poor.

We can do ours right and aim at the afford-it users. We sell alcohol, which certainly isn’t unharmful. We regulate it (although not entirely wisely with our 4 a.m. licenses).

We can wisely allow some gambling.

Kudos to Deputy State Attorney General Hugh Jones and staff for nailing online travel companies for back and current taxes. They were collecting the excise and hotel room taxes on the retail room price but only paying on the wholesale price. So they banked both their markup and the tax difference!

Linda Lingle’s tax director said under oath that the former governor ordered him to drop efforts to collect that tax. She denies that. But who should you believe, the not-under-oath Lingle or the under-oath tax director?