Owners of over two dozen bars, restaurants, and convenience stores have joined forces, forming a coalition to advocate for the legalization and taxation of skill game machines. They claim that the games helped them recover from the financial losses they faced during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the newly formed Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition, skill games have no negative impact on the community and must be regulated and taxed.
Proponents of the skill games claim that the outcome is not based entirely on luck. State officials, however, believe that the element of luck involved in these games is minimal and is included only to bypass laws and make these skill game machines look legal.
Rich Kelly, president of the coalition and owner of Hard Times Café, said that skill games have been an important source of income for small businesses and helped them to keep their heads above water during the pandemic. A Thursday news release from the coalition states that location partners receive 40% of the profits generated by skill game machines.
Mr. Kelly also noted that the state would receive a fair share of the revenue pie if it regulates skill games. The coalition also expressed its support for law enforcement agents dedicated to fighting against illegal gambling operations. The coalition’s news release states that by regulating and taxing skill games, the state would help law enforcement to detect fraudulent operators and combat illegal gambling, which negatively impacts the community and the legitimate businesses in the state.
Virginia’s Legal Dilemma Regarding Skill Games Continues
In 2020, the General Assembly voted in favor of legislation seeking to prohibit skill games in Virginia after Delegate David Bulova asked a House subcommittee if it is healthy for the community to have “mini gambling parlors in every corner of the commonwealth”.
But the law did not become effective immediately because then-Governor Ralph Northam decided to postpone the implementation of the ban to raise funds for a COVID-19 relief fund. Mr. Northam, however, stated that he would veto any bill seeking to allow skill games to continue operating next year. Thus, the ban on skill games was implemented in 2021.
But soon after that, attorney Bill Stanley filed a lawsuit on behalf of former NASCAR driver and convenience store owner Hermie Sadler, challenging the state’s ban on skill games. According to Stanley, the ban is unconstitutional because it violates businesses’ rights to free speech.
In December 2021, the court issued a temporary injunction, allowing already registered skill game machines to continue operating as the suit unfolds. Last May, Virginia lawmakers decided to extend the injunction as the lawsuit was unresolved. According to recent news, the trial is to close just the week before Christmas.
Earlier this year, House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore introduced a bill seeking to lift the ban on skill games until at least July 2024. However, Kilgore’s legislation failed to pass. In the past several years, the state has gone back and forth on whether to legalize skill games or not. Presently, skill games operate in a legally gray area.