Skills Game Bill Passes Virginia General Assembly, Awaits Youngkin’s Signature

Written By Phil West on March 4, 2024 - Last Updated on March 5, 2024
A Virginia bill legalizing skills games awaits the governor's signature.

There’s only one step remaining for skills games to become legal in Virginia once again. Last week’s passage of Senate Bill 212 by both chambers of the state’s General Assembly means it’s now up to Gov. Glenn Youngkin to sign it into law.

Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez confirmed to PlayVirginia on Monday the bill awaits the governor’s signature.

“The governor is reviewing the legislation that has been delivered to his desk as he continues to watch how the General Assembly chooses to act on other important priorities.”

Should Youngkin sign the bill, it would allow the arcade-style games, which are similar to slot machines but contain an element of skill, to be legal throughout the state.

Proponents applaud legislation, while critics warn of consequences

The legislation would counter a ban on the machines first passed in the General Assembly in 2020. That ban was given a one-year reprieve from Gov. Ralph Northam, allowing revenue from the machines to go to the COVID-19 Relief Fund created in response to the pandemic.

Skills games have been in legal limbo in Virginia since then, with a judge blocking the injunction in December 2021. But the Virginia Supreme Court vacated the injunction last fall.

Rich Kelly, president of the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition, which was created to advocate for skills game legalization, said on Friday the measure will help small businesses.

“For years, thousands of small businesses throughout the commonwealth have come to rely on the supplemental, sustainable revenue provided by skill games. This victory will solidify their presence in Virginia and give thousands of small business owners peace of mind knowing they can keep their doors open, create jobs and support their local communities.”

An Associated Press article noted that the coalition “involved skill game developer Pace-O-Matic and business owners who have hosted the games and shared in their profits.”

The AP said it was “testimony of the business owners, many of them first-generation Americans, who said the machines had been a lifeline for their restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations, especially during the pandemic,” that helped sway people skeptical of legalizing the games.

Critics still exist, though. Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines, a coalition lobbying against the legislation, warned against passage.

“This is bad policy that would bring an unprecedented expansion of gambling to every corner of Virginia without even attempting to provide basic guardrails including local referendums, legitimate background checks, security or problem gambling regulatory requirements.”

Youngkin had issues with the legislation

It’s unclear whether Youngkin will sign the bill. A Virginia Mercury article reported that Youngkin had concerns.

In that article, Youngkin spokesman Rob Damschen said there were a plethora of problems with the legislation.

“The administration has serious concerns with both the House and Senate versions of the bill. There are numerous issues to work through, including the regulatory structure, tax rates, the number of machines, impact on the Virginia Lottery and broader public safety implications.”

State Sen. Aaron Rouse characterized the bill to the Virginia Mercury as a compromise leaving no one fully happy while meeting the goal to “help small businesses and optimize revenue for the commonwealth.”

The passed bill includes a 25% tax rate on the machines’ gross receipts. It allows as many as four gambling machines in businesses licensed by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage and Control Authority and allows up to 10 machines in truck stops.

Should Youngkin sign the bill, the law would go into effect July 1.

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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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