Virginia Small Business Owners Protest Youngkin’s Amendments On Skills Game Bill

Written By Phil West on April 18, 2024
Convenience store closed sign signifies stores protesting VA skills game bill

A coalition of nearly 500 Virginia small business owners made clear their discontent this week over Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s changes to a skills game bill.

On April 15, the group participated in a statewide shutdown of lottery ticket sales. The next day, participating stores closed their businesses for an hour as a protest.

A spokesperson for the group says it is contemplating its next move, which could be suspending lottery ticket sales for a full week.

Group says skills game machines are vital to small businesses

The Virginia Amusement Coalition, a lobbying group, is strongly against amendments Youngkin made to Senate Bill 212. The measure would legalize and regulate skills game machines in the commonwealth.

The General Assembly passed the bill in early March and sent it to the governor to sign into law. Last week, Youngkin made significant changes to the legislation, sending it back to lawmakers. He added limits on the machines, including a 35-mile buffer from casinos or racetracks and increased the tax on them from 25% to 35%.

Speaking to PlayVirginia on behalf of the group, Bhavin Patel criticized the governor over the amendments, saying “He changed every line.”

Patel said he has grown his Virginia Beach-based business into more than 20 convenience stores over the past two decades. While skeptical of the machines at first, he came to understand how vital they are to his business and hundreds of other businesses across Virginia. He said revenue from the machines have helped to sustain his stores.

Due to the back-and-forth from Virginia lawmakers and courts concerning the legality of the slots-like machines – and the current ban on them – Patel said he has had to let go employees at one location. That has forced him to shoulder additional work as an owner to sustain the combination convenience store and laundromat, Patel said.

“We want to make a request to the governor, because he did not want to meet the small business owners, to please hear us out. Don’t let us go out of business. because if this skills game machine revenue doesn’t come back in a lot of locations, [they] will not survive due to higher cost of doing business in Virginia.”

Youngkin spokesperson says amendments will protect consumers

The Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition, another group behind the effort to legalize skills games, applauded the protest.

“This statewide convenience store shutdown will show customers, communities and localities the harmful impact that Gov. Youngkin’s skills game amendments will have.”

Patel said the 3:50 p.m. start time for the April 16 shutdown alluded to the 35-mile radius clause Youngkin inserted into the bill. The effort has energized participating small business owners, Patel explained.

“They have something that they’ve been kind of fighting for for a long time. They knew they were targeted unfairly.”

Youngkin’s spokesperson Christian Martinez defended the governor’s amendments to the Virginia Mercury.

“The governor supports small business owners having access to skill games and his proposed legislative amendments, stemming from discussions with a bipartisan group of members and dozens of outside stakeholders, would establish an important regulatory framework, enhance consumer and public safety protections, and grant localities and Virginians a voice.”

Lawmakers are considering Youngkin’s amendments

The General Assembly reconvened April 17 to consider Youngkin’s changes. Patel said the group is waiting to see what might come from talks between Youngkin and legislators who want to resolve the legal limbo around skills games.

He noted that within the next seven to 10 days, should the bill remain stalled, the group will consider escalating its protest by suspending Virginia Lottery sales in their stores for a full seven-day period.

This comes amid a report from Lottery Geeks that Mega Millions is considering raising the price on tickets from $2 to $5.

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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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