Virginia Gov. Northam Hopes to End Continual Confusion on Skill Games

Posted on: March 22, 2021, 05:32h. 

Last updated on: March 22, 2021, 05:53h.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), faced with a lack of clarity over whether games of skill are legal, now wants to ban the games. He expects to amend a gaming bill already approved by the legislature.

Northam’s amendment will be included in House Bill 2168
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam shown above. He wants to clearly ban games of skill in the state. (Image: Steve Helber/AP)

Northam’s amendment will be included in legislation, House Bill 2168, that recently was approved by the General Assembly. But the legislation itself appears confusing.

Wording in the bill possibly allows games of skill in small businesses for another year, The Center Square, a Virginia publication, said.

That was not the intention of the bill. A key sponsor of the legislation, Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), told The Virginia Mercury newspaper that it was not his intention to extend the presence of skill games.

It also was reported last year that games of skill were to be banned in Virginia. But the governor urged they be taxed for one year as a way to fund COVID-19 relief.

Since the plan came into effect last July, the machines have raised more than $70 million for the relief fund.

The industry that provides games of skill also has been lobbying for keeping the games legal, the Mercury adds. One provider, Queen of Virginia, donated more than $450,000 in political contributions. It also hired Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker as a consultant.

Virginia, like several other states, has allowed games of skill under a grey area of the law. Supporters of skill games say they are different from games of chance.

But one area of confusion is that games of skill often resemble slot machines. They are increasingly found in Virginia’s restaurants, truck stops, and convenience stores.

Lottery Monopoly At Risk

There are other issues related to gaming in the state. “This is just about protecting the lottery monopoly,” Stephen Haner, a senior fellow for state and local tax policy at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, told The Center Square.

If they think the unlicensed games won’t return, they’ve started smoking dope already.”

Virginia legislators also approved prohibiting gaming in an unregulated location. Offenders who provide or supervise such gambling can be fined civilly up to $25,000.

The bill lists those exempted from the penalty. It states that “any organization or person that conducted bingo, network bingo, instant bingo, pull tabs, seal cards, raffles, duck races, Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, or regulated gaming […] on or before February 1, 2021, may continue such activities only at those locations until June 30, 2022.”

Danville Possible Casino Site

Elsewhere in Virginia, Danville is one of four cities that has been cleared to move forward with a casino resort. Local officials there are already banking on the development’s tax generation.