Senate Rejects Youngkin’s Amendments On Skills Games Bill

Written By Phil West on April 19, 2024
VA senate rejects Youngkin's skills game amendments

The Virginia Senate has roundly rejected a series of amendments that Gov. Glenn Youngkin made to a bill legalizing skills games.

The Senate voted 34-6 this week to reject the governor’s changes to Senate Bill 212. Last week, Youngkin added provisions to the bill limiting where skills games could be legally played and also increased the tax rate on them.

That could force a veto from the governor, potentially keeping the machines illegal in the commonwealth, or a compromise could be worked out during an expected special session.

Group representing businesses protests governor’s amendments

In an environment where Virginia online casinos are illegal and just three brick-and-mortar casinos are currently in operation in the commonwealth, skills gaming machines took root in small businesses across Virginia, mainly in convenience stores and bars.

Businesses claim the revenue from the machines is essential to keep them afloat, while opponents contend they are nothing more than slot machines that belong in casinos only.

In his amendments, the governor called for the machines to be prohibited within 35 miles of any casino or racetrack, which subsequently banned them some in the state’s largest cities, and he raised the tax rate on them from 25% to 35%.

A coalition of nearly 500 small businesses this week protested the governor’s changes. They shut down lottery ticket sales on Monday and closed their doors for an hour on Tuesday afternoon.

Bhavin Patel, spokesperson for the Virginia Amusement Coalition, said the group could ramp up its protest by suspending lottery ticket sales for an entire week.

A compromise might be in the cards

According to reporting by the Virginia Mercury, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Aaron Rouse, understands the risks in voting down the amendments.

“I recognize that this bill faces an uncertain future if it goes back to the governor’s desk. But … I stand with small businesses in every corner of our commonwealth urging the governor to do right by small businesses and sign this bill.”

Youngkin spokesperson Christian Martinez said the governor is open to compromise.

“The governor’s concerns with the bill remain and his amendments addressed those concerns. He is open to continuing discussion to alleviate issues with both perimeter provisions.”

Rich Kelly, president of another protest group, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch the governor needs to protect businesses.

“We hope that he reconsiders the future of the tens of thousands of small businesses struggling to make ends meet here in his own commonwealth.”

With the bill now back on Youngkin’s desk, it’s up to him to decide whether to veto the bill outright or sign it void of his amendments. An opportunity to work on the measure could occur if a special session is called to resolve budget issues.

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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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