New Group Advocates for Virginia Skill Gaming Machines to Stay

Posted on: August 16, 2023, 10:17h. 

Last updated on: August 16, 2023, 10:18h.

The legality of Virginia skill gaming machines remains uncertain as the issue is currently being debated in state courts. However, a newly established coalition called the Virginia Merchants and Amusements Coalition (VAMAC) aims to influence state legislators in Richmond to ensure that these slot-like terminals, which have been a lifeline for small businesses, continue to generate crucial revenue.

Virginia skill gaming terminals slot machines
A person plays a “Queen of Virginia” skill gaming machine inside a Richmond restaurant. Virginia skill gaming remains an item of debate in the Richmond capital. (Image: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

VAMAC, headed by President Rich Kelly, has a clear mission – to support small businesses in their quest to legally operate skill gaming machines. The coalition plans to engage with state lawmakers and emphasize the importance of allowing these machines to continue. According to Kelly, the skill games have played a vital role in the post-COVID-19 recovery of businesses and have not caused any harm to the community.

“Our purpose is really simple. The small business owners who have skill games would like to keep them. We want to reach out to state legislators and say, ‘Hey, we want the skill games to continue.’ They have been an integral part of our recovery from COVID-19 and they have not damaged the community,”

However, opponents of Virginia skill gaming machines, including the state lottery and the commercial casino industry, argue against their presence. These groups claim that skill gaming machines divert players and reduce the tax revenue typically generated by regulated lottery and casino gaming.

The Skill Gaming Saga

The temporary legalization of certain skill gaming machines in Virginia was enacted during the pandemic to help small businesses recover financially. Under this temporary authorization, businesses were required to pay $1,200 per month per skill gaming machine to the state. Only specific titles, including “Queen of Virginia,” were permitted. Pace-O-Matic (POM), a gaming manufacturer based in Georgia, is the creator of this popular brand but has been unsuccessful in their efforts to secure permanent legalization through lobbying.

The temporary authorization for skill gaming machines expired on July 1, 2021. However, a lawsuit filed by Sadler Brothers Oil, a company operating several gas and diesel truck stops with skill gaming machines, resulted in a favorable injunction issued by Greensville County Circuit Court Judge Louis Lerner.

Judge Lerner’s injunction prevents law enforcement from confiscating skill gaming machines included in the temporary authorization until the resolution of the legal challenge. Due to state Rep. Bill Stanley’s involvement as legal representative for Sadler Brothers, Lerner postponed the lawsuit until November 2, when the General Assembly is expected to conclude its 2023 legislative session.

An earlier attempt to permanently legalize skill gaming machines through a bill introduced to the House of Delegates failed to garner sufficient support.

Untaxed, Unregulated

Critics of Virginia skill gaming machines argue that they bring gambling to all parts of the state without providing consumer protections or tax benefits. Revenue generated from these machines is shared among the host businesses, machine manufacturers, and route distributors, with small businesses keeping approximately 40% of the winnings.

Skill gaming machines are not subject to regulations ensuring fair play and frequently have lower payout rates compared to the slots found in Virginia’s regulated casinos. Opponents of skill gaming also claim that these machines can easily be accessed by underage individuals and individuals with gambling problems.

Supporters of skill gaming machines are willing to contribute a portion of the revenue through taxes and argue that these games do not have a negative impact on casinos. According to Kelly, “Casinos are totally different from a couple of skill games inside a 7-Eleven or in the back of a restaurant.”

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