Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin Vetoes Skill-Gaming Bill on Lack of Regulatory Safeguards

Posted on: May 20, 2024, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: May 20, 2024, 12:58h.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has vetoed legislation passed by the state General Assembly that sought to authorize skill-gaming machines and create a regulatory framework for the slot-like devices.

Virginia skill gaming Glenn Youngkin
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has vetoed legislation to authorize skill games in the commonwealth. The governor said the statute failed to come with certain “safeguards” he sought. (Image: AP)

The state legislature earlier this year approved a statute to allow small businesses to turn back on their thousands of skill-gaming terminals that were powered down last fall after the Virginia Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling on the controversial machines.

Youngkin heavily amended Senate Bill 212 before returning it to the Assembly. His changes included a 35-mile buffer zone surrounding casinos, racetracks, or historical horse racing (HHR) facilities where the gaming machines would be prohibited. The governor also included a provision outlawing the games within a half-mile of any church or daycare and increased the legislature’s proposed state tax rate on the games’ revenue from 25% to 35%.

Lawmakers refused to sign off on Youngkin’s conditions, which returned the measure to the governor’s desk. As expected, the Republican vetoed the bill. The Assembly doesn’t have the necessary two-thirds majority support to override the governor.

Governor Explains Veto

Commonly branded Queen of Virginia in the commonwealth, skill games function similarly to a casino slot machine but differ slightly in that they require a player to identify a winning payline. The skill component, supporters of the machines that are heavily opposed by the state’s highly regulated and taxed casino industry, render the machines immune from Virginia’s gambling laws.

Youngkin reasoned that further expansion of gaming in the commonwealth, which in recent years has included the authorization of brick-and-mortar commercial casinos, HHR gaming, and retail and online sports betting, must be carefully deliberated and come with many consumer protections that were absent in SB 212.

When it comes to additional gaming options, such as games of skill, we must proceed with a robust set of safeguards,” Youngkin explained. “I sent over a package of amendments which addressed my many concerns with the bill. While it is regrettable that my recommendations were not adopted, I remain open to working with the General Assembly going forward on this subject.”

Many lawmakers said Youngkin’s skill-gaming bill amendments essentially resulted in a near-ban, as the church and school provision would have limited the machines to only rural parts of the state.  

Small Businesses Lose

Though controversial, there’s no denying that Virginia skill-gaming machines have helped thousands of small businesses across the commonwealth. The revenue generated by the machines is typically split between the host business and gaming manufacturer and distributor.

Along with what many restaurant and store owners say is a few thousand extra dollars a month that the machines deliver, skill games drive foot traffic to the brick-and-mortar businesses that spur higher overall sales.

Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach), who sponsored SB 212, says he’ll propose to the legislature a new skill-gaming bill during the Assembly’s special session that began last week. Though disappointed in Youngkin’s veto, Rouse acknowledged the governor’s “good faith effort” to possibly find a compromise.

Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) is also optimistic that a resolution can be reached.

“We and the governor are going to attempt to come up with a solution to help our small business owners,” Kilgore said.