The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Investigating Honolulu’s Illegal Gambling Scene

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor “Paradise of the Pacific,” which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at April 1986.


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Then-Honolulu Police Lt. Mel De Costa shows the media some of the seized machines in 1986.



Honolulu police raid video game rooms on O‘ahu, citing tens of millions of dollars changing hands at these illegal operations. Though it sounds like it was ripped from the headlines of today, HONOLULU’s Marilyn Kim wrote this in-depth piece about video gambling in 1986. While some might view the entities as harmless enough places of amusement, Kim writes, then-Lt. Mel De Costa outlines tales of woe from family members who watched their parent or spouse lose their life savings one day at a time.


SEE ALSO: Exclusive Book Preview: Sunny, Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers and Corruption in the Aloha State


Kim interviews a man who gives his name as Michael and who compares his gambling addiction to life in video hell: “It’s like being a junkie with a $100-a-day habit.” He describes stealing money from his family, selling his car, racking up $28,000 in debt by borrowing from six finance companies and 10 friends. At the time, he was thankful for help from Gamblers Anonymous and credited the organization with saving his life. The FBI tells Kim that it’s hard to crack down on the crimes because the owners are rarely arrested, fines don’t deter the businesses from reopening and the cycle continues. De Costa agrees that the operations keep popping up. And in 2021, law enforcement is battling a resurgence in illegal gambling, often linked to drugs, violence and even murders.


SEE ALSO: Murder, Kidnapping, Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering: Here’s How Hawai‘i’s Crime Scene is Changing


04 21 Fof Web Covers


Learn more about the evolution of covers in HONOLULU Magazine and Paradise of the Pacific: 125 Years of Covers, available at



Find more photos from Honolulu’s past every Thursday on Instagram @honolulumag.