Virginia Lawmakers Reject Governor’s Amendments for Tougher Skill Games Regulations

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The Virginia State flag and the American flag fly near the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

Lawmakers in Virginia are saying “No” to tougher regulations for skill games in the state, but that doesn’t mean the amendments are dead.

In a 34-6 vote, the state Senate rejected amendments proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, which would strengthen state supervision when skill games are legalized in Old Dominion.

Governor Youngkin’s press secretary told reporters he had no immediate comment on the Senate vote. Still, the measure is now headed back to the governor’s desk, and he does have the power to veto it.

The Senate considered another vote to verify if a 2/3 majority could pass the bill in its original form, bypassing Governor Youngkin’s amendments. They dismissed the amendments instead, giving Governor Youngkin the power to veto the bill, as it was returned to him in its original form.

What Are Skills Games?

Skill games manifest in several different forms. The most notable Queen of Virginia games resemble slots, displaying a nine-square grid of symbols that the machine generates with each play. The player aims to achieve a winning pattern of three-in-a-row — akin to tic-tac-toe — which can run horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. 

Contrary to slots, the player must touch the screen to form a pattern. This typically involves selecting one square as a ‘wild’ symbol that completes one or more lines or nudging symbols upwards or downwards to complete a line.

Similar to slots, the potential payouts increase with the amount wagered by the player. The symbols associated with the highest-value prizes are the rarest, while the lowest-value symbols appear most frequently. Even though a player may complete a pattern, it doesn’t guarantee a win. This is because some symbols may pay out less than the original wager.

What the Governor Youngkin Wants to Change

In 2020, the General Assembly banned skill games. Despite a ’s attempt to prevent the enforcement of this ban, the Virginia Supreme Court reinstated it last year.

Convenience stores, restaurants, and truck stop owners claim that these skill games were a crucial source of income during the pandemic

After Virginia lawmakers passed legislation that would legalize them, Governor Youngkin proposed amendments that would increase taxes on these machines, significantly raise the licensing fees for stores and truck stops and limit the number of machines they can install.

The governor also proposed stringent geographic restrictions on these machines. They would be prohibited within a 35-mile radius of other gaming sites, including casinos, Rosie’s gaming emporiums, and horse tracks. Additionally, the governor sought to ensure these machines were not located within 2,500 feet of schools, houses of worship, or daycare centers.

Owners say it’s too much to take. But in a statement released last week, the governor’s office expressed openness to revisiting geographic limits, while reiterating concerns about the skill games legislation.

What Happens Next?

The bipartisan move increases the likelihood of Governor Youngkin vetoing the legislation. This veto would uphold a ban enacted by former Governor Ralph Northam.

However, lawmakers announced their plans for a special session later this spring to negotiate the state budget. This session provides an opportunity to revisit the issue of skill games in the coming weeks.