Virginia Lawmakers Try New Strategy To Legalize Skills Games

Written By Phil West on January 18, 2024
Photo of Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas on a story about skills games legalization legislation being pushed by her and two colleagues.

If a group of Virginia state senators gets its way, a new piece of skills game legislation could be passed in time for video lottery terminals to be revived within six months’ time. To make it happen, the measure may circumvent the Senate panel that usually oversees gambling legislation.

According to the Virginia Mercury, senators in the current legislative session are looking to offset a Virginia Supreme Court ruling from October. The court ruled that authorities could once again enforce the state’s ban against skills games.

The machines can be found in convenience stores, restaurants and taverns throughout the commonwealth. Several municipalities have resumed enforcement efforts against businesses housing the skills games.

Senators vote to move skills game measure to a different committee

Just three casinos are currently in operation in the commonwealth. Virginia online casinos are illegal. Those two factors have contributed to the proliferation of skills gaming machines throughout Virginia.

Now, some lawmakers want to make them legal and are trying a new strategy to make that happen, the Mercury reported.

“The bending of legislative rules Monday to clear a more favorable path for the proposal – which is backed by a bipartisan coalition of top lawmakers in addition to the populist support from convenience store owners – highlights the intensity of the new push to get the machines turned back on after a court ruling turned them off late last year.”

Instead of going to the Senate’s General Laws and Technology Committee, which Senate rules designate as the committee responsible for “gaming and wagering,” the committee voted 10-5 to send Senate Bill 212 to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. The General Laws Committee is led by Sen. Adam Ebbin, who the Mercury labeled a “known skill game skeptic.”

“I hope you all don’t fool around with this bill because I’d hate to have to unravel this thing when it gets to Finance,” Sen. Louise Lucas, who co-sponsored the skills game legislation, told the Mercury.

Some lawmakers cite lack of regulations as reason to keep skills games illegal

The on-again, off-again legal status for skills games in Virginia came to a head last fall, when the state’s highest court lifted an injunction that barred police from taking legal action against businesses housing them.

Shortly after that, municipalities began setting dates when enforcement against businesses housing the machines would begin. In jurisdictions like Hanover County and Lynchburg, those went into effect on Jan. 1.

Despite the potentially easier pathway for the bill, concerns remain about making the machines legal once again including how convenience store cashiers could prevent minors from using them, according to the Mercury.

Business owners say they need extra income from machines

Small business owners who have the skills gaming machines in their establishments maintain the extra revenue the machines bring them is critical to their livelihoods.

Virginia senators and delegates released a letter late last year in support of the businesses.

“Small businesses in our communities are reeling and fearful that they may be forced to lay off employees or even close their doors for good without the income and stability these games provide.”

Photo by Steve Helber/AP
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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