2 Views Of Skills Games: Helping Businesses vs. Bringing Violent Crime

Written By C.J. Pierre on January 24, 2024
Photo of a Skills Game and a pro and con graphic on a story about two editorials proclaiming plusses and minuses over the legalization of them.

With the 2024 Virginia Legislative session underway, state lawmakers are looking into the possibility of legalizing electronic skills games.

The electronic slot machine-like devices were banned by the General Assembly in 2020. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld that ban late last year. The discussion over the issue is ongoing on the legal side. Meanwhile, the debate is also going out into the public thanks to some of the locals.

Two op-ed pieces on both sides of the skills game issue were recently posted on the Cardinal News website. Both express opinions on why there are for and/or against any form of electronic skills game legislation making it to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

Restaurant owner says he was counting on electronic skill games

There are only three casinos currently operating in the commonwealth. Virginia online casinos are illegal. Those two factors have contributed to the spread of skills gaming machines throughout the state.

Carroll Bell owns the Coffee Pot restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia. He says that his restaurant has become a national and state landmark after opening in 1936 and is one of the last remaining roadhouses in the country. His op-ed on Cardinal News speaks to how much skill gaming machines have helped his business through some tough times.

“One of the bright spots though, especially during the early days of the pandemic, was the revenue we generated through skill games,” Bell said. “This important source of income allowed me to make improvements to my building, such as putting on a new roof, installing a new air conditioning system and maintaining the structure itself.”

The Virginia Supreme Court ruling from October made it so that authorities could enforce the state’s ban against skills games again. Bell says the ban makes things difficult for small business owners who just want to make ends meet.

“Skill games have brought customers in. They enjoyed playing the games, and when some people won, they bought more to eat and drink and became big tippers,” Bell said.

Bell also says that skill games could generate $200 million in additional state revenue, providing essential funding for schools and several relief efforts.

Two former law enforcement officials are against electronic skill games

Skills gaming machines are in convenience stores, restaurants and taverns throughout the commonwealth. However, several municipalities have already resumed enforcement efforts against businesses housing the skills games. Two former law enforcement officials have come out in support of those efforts.

T. Neal Morris and C.M. Hess wrote their own op-ed on Cardinal News, expressing their feelings that electronic skill games bring violent crime. They listed off several incidents, including an argument over gaming machines between two men inside a convenience store near an elementary school. The conflict led to a shootout where three other people were caught in the crossfire, including a teenage girl.

“As former law enforcement officers, we spent our careers putting the safety and best interests of Virginians first. We believe it is imperative that these machines not only remain illegal but be destroyed,” Morris and Hess said.

The officers also referenced a study that showed crimes such as assault and robbery have increased at establishments with these machines. They say electronic skills games lead to loitering, which causes security concerns and can lead to crime, in addition to making customers and staff feel unsafe.

“The nature of these machines also makes the establishments sitting-duck targets for organized crime. Not only do they hold large amounts of cash, but they are also located in businesses that do not have the resources to hire private security to protect patrons in the store,” Morris and Hess said. “It’s unfair and unsafe to place the financial burden of private security on these businesses, much less the burden of safety and security on busy store clerks or restaurant staff working at these locations.”

Virginia Senate Bill 212, which would legalize skill games, is currently under review by the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. It has a ways to go before it has an opportunity to become law.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayVirginia
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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at Play Virginia. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino, sports betting and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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