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What Will Virginia Legislature Do After Governor Sends Skill Games Bill Back With Amendments?

Written By Katarina Vojvodic | Updated:
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

Just before the constitutional deadline late Monday night, Gov. Glenn Youngkin sent a bill regarding regulating slot-like skill games in Virginia back to the General Assembly with amendments.

The details of those amendments are still unknown but will most likely be revealed on the legislative information system soon. The skill games bill is currently listed under “amended bills.”

According to Cardinal News, Youngkin said earlier on Monday that he was negotiating with lawmakers over some proposed adjustments. He told reporters in Richmond:

“We have been working with a bipartisan group of legislators because it’s really important to them. I have major problems with the bill that came over. And so we’ve been working to see if we can address those we’ll see. But I think we’ll continue to work all day, and we’ll have a final decision later this afternoon.”

Sponsored by Sen. Aaron Rouse, the bill (SB 212) to legalize skill games in convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops went through the House and Senate. It passed the Senate (in a 31-9 vote) and the House of Delegates (49-43), awaiting Youngkin’s signature.

What happens next with the skill games bill?

Youngkin’s spokesman Christian Martinez said the proposed changes were “necessary:”

“His proposed amendments represent necessary changes and the added protections to the legislation address his serious concern with the regulatory structure, tax rates, the number of machines, impact on the Virginia Lottery and broader public safety implications of the proposal.”

The General Assembly will continue to work on Youngkin’s amended bill when it reconvenes on April 17. At that time, the group will resume negotiations and act on the governor’s vetoes and recommendations for bills passed in the legislative session that finished on March 9.

If both halves of the Virginia legislature vote down some or all the skill game amendments, Youngkin could then sign or veto the bill returned to him. If the bill passes, Virginia will become the second state to legalize the machines formally. Arkansas allowed these devices to operate with an 18% privilege tax levied on the net wagering revenues from the games, according to Bonus.com.

If no bill passes, skill games will be banned in Virginia under a prohibition first passed in 2020.

Skill games bill aims to establish a regulatory framework and tax structure

Virginia Small Business Economic Development Act would establish a regulatory framework and tax structure for skill games, helping small businesses while generating an estimated $200 million in tax revenue for the state.

SB212 authorizes and specifies the registration requirements for distributing, operating, hosting, and playing skill game machines.

The bill would give locals the power to ban skill game machines in their communities, limit the number of machines and forbid the operation of skill games within a certain distance of casinos, schools and churches.

Furthermore, the bill imposes a 25% tax on the gross receipts from the play of each skill game machine from each distributor, with most tax proceeds going toward the PreK-12 Priority Fund.

The bill directs the Virginia Lottery Board to promulgate regulations to implement its provisions no later than Jan. 1, 2027. SB212 also authorizes the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to grant a provisional registration starting Jul. 1, 2024.

The legislation received support from small business owners in Virginia when it passed in the General Assembly. The coalition of supporters includes the skill game manufacturer Pace-O-Matic. Several convenience store owners, including many first-generation Americans and South Asian immigrants, advocated for the bill, saying the extra money they made from hosting the machines was essential to their survival during the pandemic.

Are skill games a legal form of gambling in Virginia?

Virginia policymakers still struggle to classify skill game machines, which are considered a form of illegal gambling under current law.

They are arcade-style games, very similar to slot machines, but still have an element of skill, as they allow players to put a wild card in the grid with each spin.

Since skill games require players to interact with the machine more than traditional slots do, at least, skill game supporters argued that such games shouldn’t technically be considered a form of gambling.

Virginia experts on gambling addiction disagree. They say call data to the state’s problem gambling hotline shows players can get dependent on skill game machines just like traditional slots.

Photo by Alex Brandon/AP file photo
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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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