Virginia’s ‘Skill Games’ Machines Face Increased Regulation

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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

Virginia’s Governor, Glenn Youngkin, wants to change the laws to make skill games legal and taxable. However, he’s suggesting tough new rules that many believe would effectively ban these gambling machines often found in small businesses.

Let’s take a further look into the proposed changes by Governor Youngkin and analyze its potential impact on the online sportsbooks industry.

Taxing the Fun

The governor suggested changes to a bill the General Assembly gave him in March. He wants to tax the machines more and let local areas decide if they want to ban them. He also wants to limit where these arcade-style games can go. They wouldn’t be allowed within half a mile of places like churches, daycares and houses of worship. This would likely mean they couldn’t be in many city areas that already have a gambling venue.

Youngkin addressed the skill-games bill among numerous others, racing against a deadline to finalize measures that were presented to him during the regular session, which concluded on March 9. Skill-games supporters vow to fight the proposed changes.

Why the Governor Wants Stricter Rules

Christian Martinez, a spokesperson for Governor Youngkin, issued a statement outlining the governor’s pursuit of ‘added protections’. These protections are intended to address a range of serious concerns related to the legislation. The concerns include issues with the regulatory structure, tax rates, the quantity of machines, the impact on the Virginia Lottery and broader implications for public safety.

What Are the Biggest Changes?

One of Youngkin’s most noticeable moves was adding a rule that doesn’t allow these games to be played if they’re within 35 miles of a casino, horse track or “historical horse racing” parlor, which features a video horse-racing game similar to slots. That provision would prevent 90% of convenience store owners from participating.

“The governor’s amendments [are] just a slap in the face to thousands of small businesses throughout our Commonwealth,” said Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach), the sponsor of the original bill.

Governor Youngkin’s changes would treat skill games more like casinos. This means people in the industry would undergo more thorough criminal background checks. Instead of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority overseeing these games, the Virginia Lottery would take over. The Virginia Lottery already oversees casinos.

Additionally, Governor Youngkin wants to give local areas more control. They could choose to ban these machines through a local vote or law. He also wants to limit the total number of these machines across the state to 20,000.

What’s Next for the Virginia Skills-Games Bill?

The General Assembly will reconvene on April 17th to review the suggested amendments. They might also consider overturning the vetoes, but this would require Democrats to obtain a 2/3 majority vote, which means that they would need support from Republicans.

After submitting his amendments, Governor Youngkin released a statement, saying, “And where there are differences in our approaches, I hope my amendments reflect the common ground we can find together. I want to thank every member of the General Assembly for their service to the Commonwealth and look forward to their return to Richmond next week as we work toward an on-time end to this year’s session.”

When the legislature wants to reject changes, it just needs a basic majority vote. But here’s the thing: If a bill goes back to the governor exactly as it was, he gets the final say. He can either say yes and sign it into law, or say no and veto it. If he vetoes it, the General Assembly does not get a chance to override him.