Youngkin Returns Heavily-Amended Skills Game Bill To Virginia Lawmakers

Written By Phil West on April 12, 2024
Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who returned skill games legislation with amendments

Following a month of “will he or won’t he” speculation over signing a skills game bill into law, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin sent Senate Bill 212 back to the General Assembly with amendments this week.

As the Virginia Mercury reported, the action still allows for skills games to become legal again, just not by July 1. With the application process to go through the Virginia Lottery, skills games would become legal on Jan. 1, 2025.

Furthermore, the Youngkin-altered bill “would give local citizens the power to ban the machines in their communities, cap the number of machines allowed statewide at 20,000 and prohibit the operation of skills games within a certain distance of casinos, horse racing facilities, schools, day cares and places of worship like churches, mosques and synagogues,” according to the Mercury.

At least one of the bill’s sponsors was not pleased with the governor’s changes.

Amendments include 35-mile buffer from casinos and racetracks

The combination of just three casinos operating in the commonwealth and the prohibition of Virginia online casinos has resulted in the spread of skills game machines across the state. Proponents contend the machines are crucial revenue sources for some small businesses, while opponents argue violent crimes are associated with the machines.

As the Virginian-Pilot noted in its coverage, Youngkin made drastic changes as to the location of the machines in his amendments to the bill.

“No distributor, operator, or host location licensee shall place or maintain any electronic gaming device within any host location’s premises that is located within 35 miles of any casino gaming establishment … (or within) 35 miles of any racetrack or satellite facility operated by a limited license holder.”

Youngkin spokesperson Christian Martinez said several changes to the bill were required.

“His proposed amendments represent necessary changes and the added protections to the legislation address his serious concern with the regulatory structure, tax rates, the number of machines, impact on the Virginia Lottery and broader public safety implications of the proposal.”

According to Cardinal News, Youngkin told reporters earlier on April 8 before sending the amended bill back to lawmakers that he was working on the changes with legislators on both sides of the aisle.

“We have been working with a bipartisan group of legislators because it’s really important to them. I have major problems with the bill that came over. And so we’ve been working to see if we can address those. We’ll see. But I think we’ll continue to work all day, and we’ll have a final decision later this afternoon.”

Sponsor of bill says Youngkin’s changes won’t fly in the General Assembly

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Aaron Rouse, was not happy with the alterations Youngkin made to the bill.

“My co-sponsors, our bipartisan coalition and I will work together to make sure the harmful provisions put into place by Gov. Youngkin do not advance. And we will do everything possible to make the interests of small businesses – not casinos or massive out-of-state corporations – a priority.”

On Rouse’s campaign website, SB 212 was compared to another piece of legislation.

“Through the pandemic, ‘cocktails-to-go’ and skilled games were a lifeline for small businesses across the commonwealth. Senator Rouse’s SB 212 and SB 635 would provide additional revenue streams for Virginia small businesses by regulating skill games and extending Virginia’s ‘cocktails to go’ policy, which allows bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages for takeout.”

Rouse was referring to former Gov. Ralph Northam invoking a one-year moratorium on a 2020 General Assembly-approved ban at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed revenue from the machines to go to the state’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. While a judge would block the injunction in December 2021, the Virginia Supreme Court vacated the injunction last fall, leading to the current illegal status for the machines.

The Virginia Mercury pointed out that “a sizable group of convenience store owners, many of them South Asian immigrants, has advocated for the skill game legalization bill, telling lawmakers the extra money they made from hosting the machines was essential to their survival during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Rich Kelly, speaking for the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition group favoring the bill, termed Youngkin’s amendments “nothing short of a ban on skill games.”

The amendments to the bill were part of a flurry of action on Monday night from Youngkin’s office, meeting that day’s deadline to act on legislation that the General Assembly passed in the most recent session.

Lawmakers will now decide how to reconcile Youngkin’s new provisions, which include bumping up the tax rate from 25% to 35%, curtailing the number of machines that each individual convenience store, gas station, and truck stop could maintain, and keeping bars and restaurants with retail ABC licenses from featuring the machines.


Image Credit: Alex Brandon / AP Images

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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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