When gray machines skirt the law and become full-blown illegal Virginia gambling hubs, at least one Virginia police department is ready to act.
The Norfolk Police Department has already sprung to action. As a result, the department’s anti-crime division has charged two Norfolk vape shops for illegal gambling activities.
The crackdowns are happening as a one-year reprieve for Virginia’s gray machines” approaches its end. However, even before the reprieve, many owners of the gambling devices were operating them illegally.
Now, with all of the machines soon to be illegal, more such crackdowns are likely throughout Virginia.
Norfolk PD actively pursuing illegal gambling
Gary machines operate like traditional slot machines. However, with a questionable “skill” aspect to these games, they had operated in a gray area of the law. Hence the name gray machines, aka skills games.
As part of an announced crackdown, lawmakers gave the electronic gambling devices a 12-month reprieve that ends on July 1. As part of the program, operators have to register each machine with the Virginia ABC (Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority). Each location, usually bars, gas stations, convenience stores, and similar businesses, was limited to eight devices, and there was a $1,200 monthly tax per machine.
However, not all of the locations were playing by the rules. As a result, the Norfolk PD recently charged two vape shop owners, following reports of illegal gambling activities:
The two vape shops include:
- Dragon Vapes (846 E. Little Creek Road)
- Lucky Vape Lounge (1202 E. Little Creek Road)
In June 2020, the Norfolk City Council reportedly voted to deny Dragon Vapes a conditional use permit to operate as a commercial recreation center with skill games. However, according to police, the shop owners installed and offered the illegal games anyway.
In the latest crackdown, police arrested two individuals on illegal gambling charges. They also seized gaming stations, cash, and computers.
In the case of Lucky Vape Lounge, the business allegedly operated more than the eight machines that it was permitted to offer.
Police encourage residents to report illegal gambling activities taking place inside of businesses by calling the Norfolk Crime Line at (888) LOCK-U-UP. They can also submit a tip through the P3Tips mobile app.
Illegal vs. legal options in Virginia
For many years, gambling options in Virginia were rather limited. The Virginia Lottery and live horse racing at Colonial Downs were among the few options.
However, in 2018, lawmakers also legalized historic horse racing (HHR). The slots-like machines can be found at Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums located throughout Virginia. Additionally, in 2020, lawmakers legalized Virginia online sportsbooks (now underway) and Virginia casinos (beginning in 2022 and 2023).
With more legal and mainstream offerings, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam plans to sign a bill to fully ban the gray machines.
During the reprieve, the gray machines generate more than $70 million for COVID relief in Virginia. Legit operators, including the largest, Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment, hoped that tax revenue would be enough to convince lawmakers to make the reprieve a permanent thing.
However, for now, it looks like the legal gray-machine industry is on its deathbed in Virginia. And as Norfolk law enforcement has shown, the illegal operators have even more reasons to worry.