Virginia Business Owners ‘Are Going To Fight’ Amended Skill Games Bill

Virginia business owners are unhappy with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s amended bill that would legalize skill games.

Last week, the governor made a number of changes to the original legislation that reached his desk. Included in the changes were location restrictions that would prevent a large number of businesses from being able to utilize skill games in their stores.

To show their displeasure, hundreds of Virginia businesses stopped the sale of retail lottery tickets on Monday. Residents still had the option of purchasing Virginia online lottery tickets.

Bhavin Patel, President of the Virginia Amusement Coalition and fellow Virginia business owner, told PlayiLottery more protests could take place if Senate Bill 212 becomes law:

“As retailers, we bring in a lot of revenue to the Commonwealth, tax money revenue. There’s sales tax, cigarette tax, gasoline tax, taxes from lottery sales. On a day-to-day basis, we are representatives of the state when it comes to tax collection. We wanted to show what can happen when we break that routine. If the lottery is shutdown for a day, what does that look like for the state? If we don’t exist to sell lottery tickets, that’s a lot of revenue for the state that isn’t collected.”

Business owners support SB212 that Senate passed

Business owners like Patel wanted to see SB212 passed originally, but they wanted the version that was presented to Gov. Youngkin in March.

In that version, the ban on skill games would be lifted. It would allow gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and other retail businesses the ability to have up to four skill games at their venue. Truck stops would be able to offer as many as 10 games.

Businesses would be taxed 25% of revenue and it would go to the PreK-12 Priority Fund. Patel said the bill that reached Youngkin’s desk is one state business owners supported:

“The bill that was originally put in the Senate, it was a pretty good bill. It allowed four machines per location with a 25% tax on the machines. I think it was a bill that we could have worked with.”

Youngkin made multiple amendments to the bill just before the deadline to act was reached on April 8.

He limited businesses to three skill games and truck stops to seven, while asking for 35-45% tax on revenue.

However, he also put in two key location restrictions. The biggest was that the skill games wouldn’t be allowed within 35 miles of a casino, horse track, or “historical horse racing” parlor. They would also be prohibited within 2,500 feet of churches, daycares, and places of worship.

That didn’t sit well with the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition, or Patel’s Virginia Amusement Coalition.

“It’s basically saying that (Youngkin is) vetoing the bill without actually vetoing it. About 90-95% of the business owners that had skill machines before wouldn’t be able to put them in their businesses with these new restrictions. The amendments he made are harmful to (SB212). Basically, he changed everything that the original bill had to help business owners. We did not expect that from him.”

The Senate bill that was passed onto Youngkin prevented local governments from enacting a ban on the skill games in their towns. That provision was not included in the governor’s amended version.

Virginia skill games ban passed in 2021, began in 2023

The original ban on skill games came into law in Virginia in 2021. However, it just took action in October 2023.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Patel says business owners relied on the skill game revenue to keep their stores from having to close entirely.

He knows that regulation of the games is needed and that owners are willing to accept that responsibility. But, Patel cites rising costs in trying to run a business as a key reason why these owners are so adamant about their stance:

“We know that we will not be able to go back to the (pandemic) days. Those skill games really helped us stay afloat during very, very tough times.

“Inflation has gone up. Minimum wage has gone up. The rent has gone up. Everything is costly to do business right now in the state of Virginia. This was one form of income that we were hoping would be a steady source that would help us pay our bills, pay our employees, and improve on our businesses.”

Youngkin was in favor of lifting skill games ban in 2021

During his campaign to be elected governor, Youngkin was on record for lifting the ban on skill games.

Here’s an excerpt from a 2021 radio interview on the matter:

“I’m supportive of the skill games and I just think all businesses should be allowed to do business. Skill games actually do enable so many small businesses to not only grow their business, but also simply to survive as we’re watching so many of the abilities to serve customers change. We’re seeing restaurants and gas stations and everybody have to remake their business. I actually am a big supporter of the skill games and I think that all businesses should have access to them.”

Patel also said that Youngkin visited the Virginia Store Association Conference in 2021, voicing his support of the ban being lifted. Now, Patel and the VAC haven’t been able to get an audience with Youngkin on the matter.

“There is always a middle ground, but (Youngkin) didn’t want to meet with small business owners. We asked him repeatedly to meet, called his office, but he didn’t want to meet with us. It’s a bad look on his behalf because small business owners are the backbone of Virginia’s economy.”

Attempts to reach Gov. Youngkin for a response on the issue haven’t been immediately returned.

Business owners committed to preventing underage gambling

One of the issues Youngkin has addressed in regard to lifting the ban on skill games is concerns over underage gambling.

Critics of skill games believe that store owners won’t be able to keep illegal gambling from happening.

As Patel noted, gas station and store owners are responsible for verifying ages as much as anyone:

“I know there were issues over underage gambling, but we are businesses that check IDs more than any other business. All day, we are checking identification of customers that are going in and out of our stores. Whether it’s for cigarettes, alcohol, or lottery, we are checking IDs on a daily basis. We prevent illegal activity from those who are underage more than anyone, so it wouldn’t be an issue with enforcing that on these skill games.”

More protests to occur if SB212 remains as is

Youngkin’s amended bill was sent back to the Virginia General Assembly, which reconvenes on Wednesday.

A two-thirds supermajority can override a veto, while a simple majority can reject the amendments. However, Youngkin will get the final say on any bill that is returned to him in its previous form. He will be able to veto, or choose to sign it into law.

One thing that is clear is that the VAC isn’t going to back down on their fight. They held a rally Wednesday morning at the Governor’s Mansion and General Assembly building to voice their frustrations.

“We are going to fight as long as it takes. We are a large coalition of 4,000-5,000 store owners and we have another group that is made up of restaurant owners. We are going to fight, and we are going to make sure our voices are heard. We don’t want to be a nuisance to the Virginia economy. We want (skill games) to be regulated and to be taxed and make sure illegal gambling doesn’t happen. What the governor is doing is going to bring in more illegal gambling than he realizes.”

Patel said that businesses could elect to stop selling lottery tickets in the future to drive home their point.

He noted the protest on Tuesday was aimed at the proposed tax rate of 35-45% in Youngkin’s bill. The lottery blackout was held from 3:50 p.m. to 4:50 p.m.

“As a Republican governor, I do not understand why (Youngkin) would want to go up to 35-45% on the small business owners while casinos and online sports betting companies are taxed 18%.”

Though customers were dismayed by not being able to purchase their lottery tickets on Monday, Patel says they understand the business owners’ fight:

“People were shocked and frustrated. They didn’t know where they could go to play the Virginia Lottery. But, a lot of the customers were sympathizing with us. They recognize that the casinos are here, sports betting is here, the lottery is here, so why are they picking on small business owners. They were supportive of our decision.”

 

Photo by Steve Helber / AP

About the Author

Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis

Lead Writer
A member of Catena Media since 2020, Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer at PlayiLottery, where he handles coverage of the online and retail lottery industry in the US. He previously spearheaded news content at PlayMichigan, where he covered one of the most prominent online lottery industries in the US — among the many other aspects of Michigan's sprawling iGaming market. You can email him at [email protected].
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