Virginia Skills Games Could Become Legal Again—Through Budget Negotiations

Written By Phil West on April 25, 2024
Two people's folded hands at a desk signify negotiations over Virginia skills game bill

The Virginia General Assembly has some unfinished business to take care of, including passing a state budget that Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the legislators don’t yet see eye to eye on.

There’s also a skills game bill that the General Assembly delivered to Youngkin in early March, which he sent back with amendments some legislators are finding disagreeable.

It’s now possible that the skills games issue will get reconciled as part of the budget negotiations.

Opposition to stipulations in current Virginia skills game bill

According to WAVY-TV, “The new budget bill will include 90% of the old bill,” and “One new element will be the role skills games play in creating new revenue streams in Virginia.”

The story also noted that state Sen. Bill DeSteph, at a recent community meeting he convened on the issue, stated,

“I love our governor, but we have a different policy position on this issue.”

Citizens who turned out for that Virginia Beach meeting were especially concerned about one of the amendments: keeping skills games outside of any 35-mile radius centered at a casino or racetrack, which would eliminate them from a significant percentage of the state, threatening the livelihood of convenience store owners and other small business operators reliant on their income.

That provision, combined with an increased tax rate that DeSteph argues is too high, led nearly 500 members of a statewide coalition to stage a two-day protest last Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, they placed a daylong moratorium on lottery ticket sales at their stores. On Tuesday, those same shop owners closed their doors from 3:50 to 4:50 p.m., calling attention to the proposed 35-mile radius and tax hike from 25% to 35%.

By the following day, the Senate had rejected Youngkin’s amendments, putting the bill back in the governor’s hands.

Youngkin willing to play ball on some skills game bill provisions

Youngkin has indicated that he’s willing to work with legislators on the issues keeping them apart. WAVY-TV reported him saying,

“I am willing to sit down and talk about the perimeter policy and make sure it does not negatively impact folks. The 35-mile perimeter, which has been in previous gambling legislation for casinos … we had a lot of discussions around that … and, like I said, I can work with legislators to address both those topics.”

In neighboring North Carolina last fall, legislators tied casino and video lottery terminal legislation to state budget negotiations. NCSharp criticized the move, writing,

“North Carolina lawmakers, fixated on including commercial casinos and video lottery terminals in the state budget, risk alienating many people who otherwise support gambling expansion.”

Based on a survey from the publication, it added,

“Many North Carolinians want casino expansion. But pitting it against vital civic and social programs is not how to get there.”

The Washington Post noted that Youngkin and legislators have arrived at “an agreement to reach an agreement,” with budget negotiators aiming to submit a proposal on May 13, targeting a vote on it two days later.

While it’s possible Youngkin could either veto the skills games bill before him or pass it without the amendments he sought to include, it’s perhaps more likely now that the legal limbo that has surrounded skills games in the commonwealth over the last few years will get reconciled along with the budget.

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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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