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Virginia Senate Rejects Gov. Youngkin’s Amendments To Skill Games Bill

Written By Katarina Vojvodic | Updated:
Virginia State Capitol Building With Moon

The future of skill games in Virginia convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops remains unclear.

The state Senate recently voted to reject Gov. Glenn Youngkin‘s sweeping changes and tougher rules on a proposal to regulate and tax skill game machines.

As announced, the General Assembly gathered on April 17 and voted 34-6 to reject the governor’s stricter amendments to the bill. The legislation, in its original form, is now back on Youngkin’s desk, waiting for his response.

Key takeaways:

  • Virginia’s skill game ban passed in 2020 but wasn’t carried out until July 2021 after lawmakers told the industry they have a one-year grace period due to the COVID-19 pandemic closures. The ban got postponed for almost two years as the skill game industry fought it in court. The Virginia Supreme Court reinstated the ban in late 2023.
  • Sen. Aaron Rouse sponsored the skill games legislation (SB 212), supporting Virginia small businesses. Most of these businesses depend on operating skill game machines, so their revenue remains critical.
  • Virginia’s SB 212 went through the House and Senate, but the governor sent a bill back to the General Assembly with amendments, which the Senate rejected.

What happens to Virginia skill games now?

There are two possible scenarios regarding the future of skill games in Virginia.

The governor could veto the bill, likely keeping skill machines illegal in the state, by a ban enacted under former Gov. Ralph Northam. Skills games resemble slot machines, and the question of whether the games require “skill” prompted the ban.

A compromise on the bill could also be negotiated during a special session planned for later this spring.

Rouse, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, told the Virginia Mercury he stands with small businesses:

 “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.”

According to Youngkin’s modifications, skill games cannot legally operate within a 35-mile boundary around existing gambling venues. And state law prohibits them within 2,500 feet of schools or churches. Youngkin’s proposed changes also include raising the small business tax rate from 25% to 35%. The tax proceeds would support the PreK-12 Priority Fund.

Convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops, which were very much impacted by the pandemic, say they have relied on income from skill games for their stores to stay operational. They now fear that, if established, tougher measures could lead to closures of their stores.

Online casinos in Virginia are not available, but physical casinos are in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. VA residents and visitors can place bets on live horse races and try slots-like betting in historical horse race wagering locations.

Virginia governor’s amendments caused protests at hundreds of state convenience stores

Hundreds of convenience stores protested Youngkin’s amendments last week, refusing to sell Lottery tickets on Monday and closing stores during their busiest hours on Tuesday.

The Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition participated in a two-day strike, hoping to urge Youngkin and the General Assembly members to reverse the amendments to Virginia’s SB 212.

As Virginia Mercury reported, nearly 500 businesses stopped issuing Virginia Lottery tickets on April 15. The protests also continued on April 16.

The small businesses participating in the protests hoped to demonstrate the economic impact their closures could have on the lottery and the tax revenue they produce.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for PlayCanada.com. Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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