Virginia Governor Youngkin Stalls Controversial Skill-Gaming Bill with Veto

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Amidst a flurry of political back and forth, Virginia’s Governor Glenn Youngkin firmly placed his veto on a recent piece of legislation. The proposal, which had successfully navigated the murky waters of the State General Assembly, sought approval for the authorization of skill-gaming machines, as well as a sounding board for the regulation of these slot-like devices.

Earlier this year, the state’s lawmakers gave the green light for a new statute. For small enterprises, this meant the potential revival of various skill-gaming terminals, which had been made dormant in the autumn following a change of heart by the Virginia Supreme Court – a move that sparked controversy and a clash of opinions. This reaction was initiated by a lower court’s ruling related to the legitimacy of these gaming machines.

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However, Governor Youngkin had different perspectives about the Senate Bill 212. Before handing it back to the Assembly, he made several significant amendments. His revised version proposed a secure 35-mile radius surrounding casinos, racetracks, or facilities dedicated to historical horse racing: within these zones, these skill-gaming machines would be strictly prohibited. Furthermore, Youngkin introduced a clause that deemed these games unlawful within a half-mile of any church or daycare center. He also proposed an increase of the state tax rate on game revenues from 25% to a substantial 35%.

This bold move by the governing authority did not sit well with lawmakers and brought the bill back onto the governor’s desk. The expected gubernatorial veto soon followed, with the legislature lacking the mandated two-thirds majority needed to quash his decision.

These skill-based contraptions, termed Queen of Virginia in official circles, resemble traditional casino slot machines. The distinguishing feature is the need for the player to identify a winning payline – a slight variation that causes controversy as its legality isn’t currently covered within Virginia’s gambling laws.

Following the veto, Youngkin defended his position. He expressed concerns about the expansion of gambling in the state, considering the recent authorization of brick-and-mortar casinos, the rise of historical horse racing, and the surge in retail and online sports betting. At the heart of his argument was a lack of robust consumer protections in the now-vetoed SB 212.

The effect of the governor’s amendments had a chilling effect on the gaming machines’ availability, with regulations restricting usage to predominantly rural regions of Virginia.

Despite the controversy, it’s hard to ignore the extensive benefits to local businesses. Virginia’s skill-gaming machines have proven a financial boon for countless small businesses across the commonwealth, with the generated revenue split between the host business and the manufacturer of the gaming machine.

In the wake of Youngkin’s veto, Senator Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach), original sponsor of SB 212, announced his intention to reintroduce a new skill-gaming bill to the legislature in an upcoming special session. The Senator expressed disappointment but appreciated the Governor’s well-intentioned effort towards compromise. A sense of hope was echoed by Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) as he confidently stated that a resolution beneficial to small businesses could be achieved, through collaborative efforts with the Governor.