Battle To Legalize Skill Games Heats Up In Richmond

Battle To Legalize Skill Games Heats Up In Richmond
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

The battle to keep skill games operating in Virginia continued this week with a newly formed coalition of small business owners and state lawmakers showing support during a press conference in Richmond.

Skill game machines can be found in restaurants, retail establishments, bars, convenience stores, and truck stops. These games operate based on the player's skill in picking a winning combination with each spin. Casino slot machines payout winnings based on a Random Number Generator, or RNG.

In October, the Supreme Court of Virginia reinstated a statewide ban on skill games, overruling a lower court’s plan to hear a lawsuit in December on why the games should be permitted. The battle to keep skill games operating in Virginia first started in 2020 when the Virginia General Assembly banned the devices.

The fight for skill games has been an ongoing topic in a state where Virginia sports betting has been legal and regulated since January 2021 and now has three casinos open in the state. In the meantime, more than 9,000 unregulated skill game machines were operating in the Commonwealth before they were shut down in November.

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Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition

On Tuesday, members of the newly formed Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition (VA MAC) requested that state officials make the games legal again with regulations and a source for taxes. VA MAC pleaded their case during a press conference at the capital in Richmond.

"This is about looking out for Virginia's small businesses who count on skill games to create local jobs, generate revenue, and support economic growth in our communities," said VA MAC President Rich Kelly, owner of Hard Times Café with four locations in northern Virginia. Business owners say skill games provide additional revenue to small businesses by supplementing their traditional income base. There are no legal Virginia online casinos.

"VA MAC is just the beginning of our efforts to support the regulation of skill games,” he said.

Kelly says Virginia will continue to miss out on an estimated $130 million in tax revenue per year, and potentially much more until skill games are regulated. The games helped small businesses “keep their doors open,” he added.

A handful of state senators are listening and pushing to legalize the devices.

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Skill Games Legislation Introduced

State Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William ) introduced Senate Bill 307 which proposes a 34% tax on the games. A bill introduced earlier this week, SB 212, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach) calls for a 15% tax. Virginia Del. Cliff Hayes (D-Chesapeake) also sponsored House Bill 590, a House version of the legislation Rouse introduced.

HB 590 would establish the Virginia Small Business Development Act. The act would create a regulatory framework in Virginia for small businesses to offer skill games. One bill calls for skill games to be regulated by the Virginia Lottery Board with the other designating the Alcoholic Beverages Control Authority. VA MAC’s next step is to hold a lobby day and reception on Jan. 16.

“We hope to have a large crowd of skill game supporters at the capital to meet with legislators and share the positive impact skill games have had on their businesses,” VA MAC said in an announcement on Facebook. The group will host a reception for legislators in the evening.

Virginia’s legislative session runs through March 9.

With the skill games debate ongoing, there are currently 15 Virginia sportsbook apps operating in the state.

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Author

Keith Stein is a Virginia-based writer for BetVirginia.com who covers sports betting and casinos.

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