Virginia legalized and taxed skill gaming machines during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. There’s widespread support to extend their legality in the Commonwealth.
The Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) provided the controversial gaming machines with a temporary legal footing in April of 2020. The decision came just a month after the legislature motioned to ban the terminals that had popped up across the state in bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and truck stops.
The law passed last April legalized the skill games through July 1, 2021. The bill gained support as the devices were viewed as a new revenue and tax generator for businesses and the state alike during the pandemic.
The new year is here, but the coronavirus remains. House Bill 1880, introduced by Rep. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax), would extend the legality of the skill machines for another year until July 1, 2022. HB1880 has been directed to the House Committee on General Laws.
In the coming years, Virginia will become home to at least four commercial land-based casinos. The towns of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville all held successful ballot referendums on gambling during the November 2020 election.
The casino operators investing in the economically distressed cities oppose skill gaming machines. The Virginia Lottery is also issuing mobile sports betting permits, and the first legal bet is expected to be wagered soon via the internet.
Despite the imminent gaming expansion, for now, there seems to be adequate support to allow the skill gaming devices to continue operating for at least another year.
“Ironically, last year I was one of the leaders in calling for banning the games,” Krizek said. “And I’m still not a big fan of them in general. But I think it’s a bit elitist to say online gambling and casinos are the only thing we want in Virginia, but we don’t want these games of skill in truck stops and struggling restaurants,” he added.
State Moneymaker, Business Savior
The state receives $1,200 for each skill game position, aka a seat in front of a machine. Most terminals are single-player, but some establishments have incorporated multiplayer skill gaming tables, which can have as many as six player positions.
Under the current law and Krizek’s proposed extension, truck stops are permitted to house up to 20 skill gaming positions. Establishments licensed by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) can have no more than six positions.
The fees are paid for by the gaming manufacturer and distributor. Profits from the devices are split between the business establishment and gaming machine supplier.
Northam says the games have generated approximately $90 million for the state. The funds were designated for K-12 public education in the case that sales taxes fell dramatically during the health crisis. They largely did not, and Northam says the money can now be used to assist businesses most impacted by COVID-19.
“Last special session we did the right thing and earmarked this money for education in the event that revenues slipped,” the governor said. “Well, they didn’t slip, and this money can be used … to help our small businesses.”