Virginia legislature unbans and regulates skill game machines

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Less than five years after state lawmakers passed a ban on gray skill machines, Virginia lawmakers have reversed course and not only repealed the ban but also regulated the industry in the state.

The House and Senate have passed SB212, which allows venues with liquor licenses to have as many as four machines and allows truck stops to have as many as 10 machines. Machine manufacturers will pay $500,000 for a license while operators will pay $100,000. The machines will be taxed at a rate of 25%.

As part of the bill, the Virginia Lottery will commission game testing labs to vet and approve the machines.

The bill took an unusual path through the legislature, eschewing the committee that handles most gambling bills. The legislation rushed through the chambers last week, culminating in 49-43 vote last Friday in the House of Delegates.

The bill now heads for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk but there is no guarantee he will sign it. Last week before the House vote, Youngkin’s office told the Virginia Mercury there were many elements to consider and work out before signing it into law. One concern is the potential impact the machines would have on the state lottery.

“This skill game bill will allow Virginia’s small business owners, many of whom are first-generation Americans, to keep their doors open, their employees working, and continue contributing to the community,” Virginia Merchants and Amusements Coalition President Rich Kelly said in a statement after the vote.

“While this process is far from over, the Virginia House and Senate today passed legislation that would open the Commonwealth to more forms of gambling than any other state in the country. 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. Virginians deserve better,” the Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines said in a statement.

Earlier this year, American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller published an op-ed on the machines in The Daily Progress opposing regulation.

“When Virginia legislators voted to legalize gambling, they applied rigorous standards to casinos, including a limit of five casino licenses in five specific communities across the commonwealth. Local voters in host communities must also approve any casino through a local ballot referendum. But if the current proposal passes, so-called skill games would be able to infiltrate a community, within blocks of your home, church or school, without so much as a town hall meeting,” he wrote.

Originally the legislature voted to ban these machines in 2020, but the governor at the time, Gov. Ralph Northam, delayed the enforcement of the ban to help local businesses through the pandemic.

In 2021, the ban briefly took effect before a court challenge. The ban on these skill games went into effect permanently last October after the challenge to the ban failed.