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Virginia Bill To Legalize And Tax Skill Games Awaits Youngkin’s Signature

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on March 6, 2024
Virginia State Capitol Sits Quiet

Virginia lawmakers have passed legislation (SB 212) to legalize skill games in convenience stores and truck stops in the state.

Sponsored by Virginia Beach state Sen. Aaron Rouse, the bill passed the Senate (in a 31-9 vote) and the House of Delegates (49-43).

Supporters of the skill game machines want the state to regulate and tax the machines. According to the article by Smith Mountain Eagle, Rouse argued these gaming devices would bring in $200 million a year:

“Virginia has opened the door to gaming. The lottery, sports betting, historical horse racing, charitable gaming. It’s time that we allow skill games a chance to compete.”

Under Rouse’s bill, 6% of skill game revenues would go towards the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (Virginia ABC), which will impose the regulations. In comparison, 15% of revenues would go to the state.

The legislation allows convenience stores up to five skill game terminals, whereas truck stops can have up to 10.

The bill now goes to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

With retail and online sports betting flourishing in the state, could Virginia online casinos be on the horizon? There has been no discussion in the legislature, but other states are considering legislation. Keep track of Virginia and other states with our online casino bill tracker.

The debate over the Virginia skill games legality continues

Skill games are arcade-style games that look like slot machines but involve an element of skill, according to the Associated Press. Players have the option of where to place a wild card in the grid with each spin.

The coalition that supports the legislation includes the skill game manufacturer Pace-O-Matic and business owners who have hosted the devices for years. Many first-generation Americans say these machines have been crucial to their restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations, especially during the COVID pandemic.

According to the article by the Associated Press, Rich Kelly, a restaurateur and president of the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition, which formed to advocate for the legalization of the machines, said:

“For years, thousands of small businesses throughout the Commonwealth have come to rely on the supplemental, sustainable revenue provided by skill games. This victory will solidify their presence in Virginia and give thousands of small business owners peace of mind knowing they can keep their doors open, create jobs, and support their local communities.”

Opponents of the bill say legalizing skill games would represent a massive expansion of gambling in Virginia, which they believe could result in harm to children, low-income people and those with gambling addiction. Legalization was also opposed by other stakeholders in the gambling industry, including some Virginia casinos.

As the article further states, Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines, a group formed to lobby against the legislation, said in a statement:

“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.”

PA skill games bill moves to the Gaming Oversight Committee

Only a few states legalize the machines in the way Virginia is anticipating. Pennsylvania is one of them, as its Commonwealth Court unanimously ruled PA skill games as legal in December.

The Commonwealth Court has ensured that skill games will remain legal, although the PA’s AG office specified that the games are “clearly” slot machines. As the court emphasized, it trusts that the machines are games of skill and not chance.

According to a news post by Corey Sharp at PlayPennsylvania, last week, the Pennsylvania General Assembly announced that HB 2075, which imposes 16% taxes on Pennsylvania skill games, has been referred to the Gaming Oversight Committee.

Rep. Danilo Burgos introduced the bill as the primary sponsor in September 2023. He said the bill could generate close to $300 million in revenue during the first year. Burgos is also a secretary of the committee.

Gov. Josh Shapiro revealed plans to regulate and tax Pennsylvania skill games in his FY 2024/2025 budget proposed in February.

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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 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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