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Virginia Stores Protest Youngkin’s Skill Games Amendments

Read about the ongoing protest by Virginia convenience stores against Governor Youngkin's proposed amendments to legalize skill games. Learn about the concerns raised and the potential economic and regulatory impacts as the debate unfolds.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Apr 16, 2024

The Virginia Casino Tensions

Convenience stores across Virginia have initiated a two-day protest against recent amendments proposed by Governor Glenn Youngkin aimed at legalizing skill games. The amendments, sent for consideration last week, have ignited a contentious debate within the state, raising concerns regarding their potential economic and regulatory implications.

At the center of the debate lies Senate Bill 212, intended to permit skill games in various establishments including convenience stores, restaurants, and truck stops. This legislative move follows a previous ban imposed by Virginia lawmakers in 2021 due to perceived similarities between skill games and slot machines, coupled with uncertainties surrounding the element of skill involved in gameplay.

 

The Key Developments:

  1. Protest by Virginia Convenience Stores: Hundreds of convenience stores in Virginia have staged a two-day protest against Governor Glenn Youngkin's proposed amendments to legalize skill games. This includes temporary closures and cessation of issuing Virginia Lottery tickets to underscore their opposition.
  2. Controversial Amendments: Governor Youngkin's amendments to SB 212 include significant changes such as prohibiting skill games within a 35-mile radius of existing gaming facilities and increasing the small business tax rate from 25% to 35%. Critics argue that these amendments could lead to the closure of numerous convenience stores across the state.
  3. Legislative Decision: The fate of the bill rests with the upcoming session of the Virginia General Assembly on April 17. Lawmakers will deliberate on Youngkin's amendments, with the possibility of either accepting them in entirety, accepting selective amendments, or attempting to override the governor's vetoes.

 

Spearheaded by Senator Aaron Rouse, the bill received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. However, the ongoing discourse surrounding the legalization of skill games underscores the complexity of the issue, with deliberations set to continue during the forthcoming General Assembly session on April 17.

In response to the proposed amendments, the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition (VA MAC) has orchestrated a two-day strike in protest. On April 15, nearly 500 businesses refrained from issuing Virginia Lottery tickets as a symbolic demonstration of their opposition, emphasizing the potential economic repercussions of closures on lottery revenues and tax income.

Continuing their protest on April 16, participating stores announced temporary closures during a specified hour, seeking to underscore the adverse effects that Youngkin's amendments could have on customers, communities, and localities.

Governor Youngkin, via his spokesperson Christian Martinez, has defended the amendments, citing concerns regarding regulatory structure, tax rates, and machine numbers. Notable among the proposed changes is a provision prohibiting skill games within a 35-mile radius of existing gaming facilities, alongside restrictions on their proximity to educational and religious institutions.

Furthermore, Youngkin's amendments include a significant increase in the small business tax rate from 25% to 35%, with proceeds designated for the PreK-12 Priority Fund. Critics argue that such measures could exacerbate economic challenges, potentially leading to the closure of numerous convenience stores across the state.

 

“Governor Youngkin, via his spokesperson Christian Martinez, has defended the amendments, citing concerns regarding regulatory structure, tax rates, and machine numbers.”

 

The Conclusions

The decision on the fate of the bill rests with the Virginia General Assembly during the upcoming session. Lawmakers will deliberate on Youngkin's amendments, with potential courses of action including acceptance in entirety, acceptance of selective amendments, or attempts to override the governor's vetoes.

Senator Rouse has expressed resolve to collaborate with co-sponsors to address what he perceives as “harmful provisions” introduced by Youngkin. The legislative history reflects a previous vote in 2020 to ban skill game machines, driven by concerns over potential revenue competition with the state lottery and regulatory loopholes exploited by game operators.

Should skill games indeed gain legal status in Virginia, the Virginia Lottery is poised to assume regulatory oversight, pending the establishment of a permanent regulatory structure. In the interim, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage and Control Authority has been designated to oversee these machines until the Lottery assumes its regulatory role.

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