Let’s face it: As amazing as Hawaii is, the island state is hardly among the United States’ hotspots in terms of sports or gambling. However, although Hawaii is out there in the relative middle of nowhere in the Pacific – indeed, Honolulu is considered the world’s most isolated metropolitan area, and Hawaii itself is Earth’s most isolated population center – the reach of American football cannot be avoided.

Betting in Hawaii

Let’s start with a Hawaiian word you can learn: ʻAʻohe. This basically translates as “nothing” or “none,” and it’s a nicely tight summation of the situation awaiting those seeking legal football betting in Hawaii. With not even a state lottery in existence and a strict ban on daily fantasy sports (putting Hawaii into the minority 20% on both stances), we may yet see another professional football team take a sort as basing itself in Hawaii before we see betting on football allowed in Hawaii.

The said part of this is that healthy, seasonal betting competitions were formally an ingrained part of Hawaiian culture. Hawaiians of 1500 years ago were quite keen on sports betting, wagering possessions – or even personal freedom – on the athletic contests held during the holiday season of Makahiki. Such contests were held to hone skills for war and thus involved combat sports (including the distinctive martial art Kapu Kuʻialua or Lua), shooting projectile weapons and tests of strength.

But the death knell for socially acceptable betting in Hawaii came even earlier than it did in much of the U.S. When King Kamehameha I unified the eight big islands as the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810, the Makahiki festival itself soon disappeared, as did the games, for no further training of warriors was necessary. And since Kamehameha deal extensively with colonial powers, the presence of missionaries was soon rife on the islands, and any sort of gambling was frowned upon.

By its incorporation as a state in 1959, Hawaii had already experienced a nearly (legal) gambling-free society for 200-plus years. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that a booming crime scene has evolved in the 21st century. In 2015, for example, the Honolulu Police Department alone reported 65 operations undertaken and 43 arrests made in connection with illegal casino-style gaming or sportsbook operations.

Football in Hawaii

Due to the islands’ location, basing a professional football team in Hawaii has been something of pipe dream, except for one brief window of opportunity which opened in the 1970s; more on that momentarily. The jewel in Hawaii’s (non-surfing) sports crown was formerly the hosting of the NFL Pro Bowl, a usually fun if meaningless contest that allowed some players to simply chill on the islands for up to six weeks after a losing season.

“Thanks” to waning attendance, though, as of 2017, the Pro Bowl is now played in Orlando, Florida, a seriously uninspired if convenient choice. If I were a perpetual all-star NFLer, I’d be pissed off.

Honest-to-Lombardi professional football was once played in Hawaii, though. In hoping to somehow live up to the expectations of the lofty name, the World Football League placed a team in Honolulu for the league’s inaugural season of 1974. Originally to be called the Warriors, team owners instead relied on the interesting name The Hawaiians when informed that the Warriors was already taken by not only the University of Hawaii team, but also a local semipro baseball club.

WFL executives made a similar mistake as did other would-be American pro football leagues in attempting to directly take on the NFL, albeit on a smaller scale. In an attempt to dominate the Hawaiian media market, the WFL scheduled The Hawaiians’ games on Sunday, whereas all other teams played Wednesdays so that teams in New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. would *not* compete with the NFL – Imagine as a player making the five-hour flight from the West Coast and back through more time zones in time for another game on Wednesday. The result was that The Hawaiians finished 10th among the WFL’s 12 teams in attendance; when league officials rethought the idea for ’75, it was too late.

Experience with the WFL notwithstanding, the football team to back in Hawaii has been since 1909 the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. And certainly the man to this day most associated with Hawaii football is he who first brought consistent winning to the ‘Warriors: Tom Kaulukukui. Serving as co-head coach for the 1941 team which went 8-1, Kaulukukui took over the team with resumption of play in ’46. Hawaii became known as one of the top (then-) Division II schools in the country, going 34-18-3 over the next five seasons.

The Rainbow Warriors wouldn’t see such on-field success again until June Jones took over in 1999. Jones came to the team after various coordinator and assistant coaches gigs in the NFL, CFL and USFL, including a brief stint as Atlanta Falcons head coach in the mid-90s. Jones took over a Hawaii team that had dumped 18 straight and took them to a 9-4 record in ’99.

Jones would ultimately go 75-41 before leaving the university after the 2007 season. The team posted a losing record in 2005, but Jones’s run generated excitement for the program like never before. By ’04, quarterback Tommy Chang broke the record for NCAA career passing yards. Colt Brennan took over for Chang at QB and smashes single-season TD and efficiency records over the next three seasons. In ’07, Hawaii won its first-ever Western Athletic Conference (WAC) title and became the third team from a non-major conference in the modern era to earn an invite to a headliner bowl, meeting the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl.

Betting on Football in Hawaii

Nope. It’s just never going to happen in mine, yours or your grandchildren’s lifetimes. Unless of course, you prefer to bet with nothing at stake: Under state law 712-1231, “social gambling” is permitted. This is defined as wagers in which “No player receives, or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, other than the player's personal gambling winnings” and in which no party “receives or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, from any source, including but not limited to permitting the use of premises, supplying refreshments, food, drinks, service, lodging or entertainment.”

Also of note: Under Hawaiian law, legally permitted social gambling must not be played “in or at a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, cocktail lounge, restaurant, massage parlor, billiard parlor, […] public parks, public buildings, public beaches, school grounds, churches or any other public area.”

So, yeah. Betting on football in Hawaii? ‘A’ohe