Photos: Hawaiian paradise

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  1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai

    Kalalau Valley, on Kauai's west side, is more than 3,000 feet deep and provides stunning panoramic views. Waimea is nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (John Borthwick / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

    Men row their Hawaiian outrigger canoe towards Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. Outrigger canoes are now used for recreation purposes and to ride the waves, but in times past they were the main means of transportation between the Hawaiian Islands. (Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The tranquil waters of Oahu

    Hanauma Bay is one of the finest stretches of beach in the world. (Eric L Wheater / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Surfer's paradise

    Australian Luke Egan competes on Oahu's North Shore, one of the best places in Hawaii to ride the big waves. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Water colors

    A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wailua Falls

    The beautiful 83-foot tiered Wailua Falls is an easily accessible, must-see waterfall on the island of Kauai. Wailua Falls was first made famous when it was featured in the television show, "Fantasy Island." (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Emerald peaks

    The iconic, towering emerald peaks of the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, stand out in Maui's Iao Valley State Park. (Adina Tovy Amsel / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historic reminder

    The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marks the resting place of many of the battleship's 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese. The memorial is the "ground zero" of World War II. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aloha!

    Hula dancers welcome the sailing crew of a Hokule'a, a canoe, into Kailua Bay. (Ronen Zilberman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The heart of Hawaii

    The sun sets on Honolulu, Oahu's capital and Hawaii's largest, most populous city. (Robert Y. Ono / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Polynesian heat

    Brandon OFueo Maneafaiga, 23, of Waianae, Hawaii balances two flaming knifes during the 13th Annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. (Lucy Pemoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    People watch from a viewing area as an explosion takes place on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Legend says the volcano goddess Pele dug fire pits as she traveled from island to island looking for a home with her brothers and sisters. She finally settled at Kilauea's summit, where she lives at Halemaumau crater. (Leigh Hilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forces of nature

    The Dragon's Teeth are bizarre lava formations eroded by wind and salt spray at Makalua-puna Point. (Karl Lehmann / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Heaven on Earth

    Astronomy observatories are seen on the peak of the snow-covered, Mauna Kea mountain near Hilo, Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. (Tim Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. On the way to Sainthood

    Tourists walk through a cemetery past the grave, left, of Father Damien at Kalawao, Hawaii. After cancer patient Audrey Toguchi prayed to Father Damien, known for helping leprosy patients in Hawaii, to help her, and her cancer went away, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case in July 2008 as Damien's second miracle, opening the way for the 19th century Belgian priest to be declared a saint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cool colors

    Rainbow eucalyptus (Mindanao Gum) trees grow in Keanae, Maui. Once a year, these magnificent trees shed their bark and take on the colors of the rainbow. (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Magic Sands

    An aerial view of La'aloa Beach Park or Magic Sands beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The beach is called Magic Sands because when rough surf hits, all of the sand is emptied off the beach and temporarily moved out to sea. (Brian Powers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 2/18/2010 4:48:25 PM ET 2010-02-18T21:48:25

Hawaii has always been known for its sun, sand and surf. It may soon add another attraction: slots.

Hawaii is one of the last two states with no legalized gambling, but lawmakers facing billion-dollar budget deficits and hunting for ways increase revenue are thinking about allowing casinos in tourist-filled Waikiki or on Native Hawaiian lands.

Proponents say casinos would draw much-needed new money and jobs into the long-troubled, tourism-dependent economy.

Tourists from the mainland would skip Las Vegas to sun on pristine beaches and take a turn at the roulette tables. Coveted high-rollers from Asia could avoid the long trans-Pacific flight, shortening their trip to the slots while also checking out the hula dancing.

And the hundreds of thousands of Hawaii residents who fly about six hours to Vegas would only have to jump in the car or hop a short flight to place a wager. Las Vegas is known around here as Hawaii's ninth island, and hotels in Nevada cater to the state's needs by serving island dishes and dealers wear flora aloha shirts.

‘A gambling community’
"The populace here loves to gamble. Hawaii by nature is a gambling community," said Honolulu resident Ricky Graves, who travels to Las Vegas two or three times a year, but fears that casinos in Hawaii could ruin families by making it too easy for them to gamble away their money.

Gambling opponents are urging state legislators to block casinos so that the islands can maintain their status as a family-friendly destination lacking the serious crime and social problems they say accompanies legalized gambling elsewhere.

"People don't come here to be shut up in a casino to gamble," said Dianne Kay, president of the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "It would be sad if we destroyed the beautiful ambiance we have here."

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Islanders have a long history with gambling, dating back to the days of the Hawaiian kingdom when there was betting on horse racing, said Kale Gumapac, spokesman for the Native Hawaiian group Kanaka Council Moka o Keawe.

And illegal gambling is thriving today, with sports books, cock fighting and card houses the more popular forms. The Internet has also made gaming more accessible.

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But the state's natural attractions and its religious missionary history have instilled a sense among many that gambling shouldn't intrude on one of the nation's last holdouts against it. Utah is the only other state where gambling is illegal, though Nevada is just next door.

"People in Hawaii like gambling, but they realize it's not a very good idea to legalize it," said Dennis Arakaki, head of the Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference. "Gambling isn't a good way to deal with your financial problems, either personally or as a state."

Police say legal gambling would increase crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing.

It's difficult to quantify the extent of the underground gambling operations, said Maj. Susan Dowsett of the Honolulu Police Department. The department made 40 gambling-related arrests and initiated 65 felony gambling cases in 2009, a fraction of overall arrests.

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Governor opposes legalized gambling
Gambling supporters dispute claims that legalized gambling would spread crime. They're more focused on the potential for gambling to jump-start the economy, especially if a casino could get running within a year as they claim.

Legislators view gambling as a rare opportunity to raise money without having to hike taxes, although they may not have the votes to override a potential veto. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has said she opposes the introduction of gambling.

Lawmakers pitch gambling bills nearly ever year, but the measures rarely advance through several committees as they have this year.

One plan would set up a gaming commission to issue one five-year license to a casino on Oahu, which advocates say would create some 4,000 jobs and bring $100 million a year into state coffers through taxes on the casino.

Another would allow casinos on Hawaiian lands, with 80 percent of tax revenues going toward Native Hawaiians. That money could be used for more Hawaiian homes, better health coverage and financing for startup businesses, Gumapac said.

A casino in Waikiki would only need to be allowed under state law. But gambling on Hawaiian lands would be reviewed by the federal government before it could start, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Opening a casino in the tourist-heavy Waikiki would help rejuvenate businesses and create jobs, business owners said.

"If I were a tourist, I'm coming here for the weather, the culture, the sightseeing. But one night I might go to the casino, because what other entertainment is there to do at night?" said James Boersema, an investor of a Waikiki nightclub and restaurant.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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