Virginia Skill Machine Players Return Quickly After Injunction, But Tax Revenue Won’t
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Bar, restaurant and convenience store owners say players have returned quickly to play skill machines following a judge’s decision to temporarily lift the ban, but what doesn’t is not revenue, it is state and local government tax revenue.
A judge’s injunction issued by Greensville Circuit Court stays the so-called ban on games of skill until a trial scheduled for May. This does nothing to revive the regulations that had been overseen by the Virginia Liquor Control Authority (Virginia ABC).
Those who have criticized the legislation say the current situation is a prime example of how state lawmakers got it wrong.
“They could get all that money, but right now they’re not,” former Norfolk councilor Randy Wright said Thursday. Wright was a lobbyist for Queen of Va Skill & Entertainment LLC, the state’s largest skill game provider, for a year and spoke on behalf of plaintiffs in an earlier lawsuit that failed to end to the ban.
The skill machines brought in more than $130 million in tax revenue for the year they were regulated, much of which went to a COVID-19 relief fund.
But sources say “everything is in flux” with the latest court ruling and currently games will operate without oversight or a dedicated tax stream.
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has yet to take a strong stance on the machines, which were banned with bipartisan support on July 1 this year.
The state’s current leading Republican, State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City County), Finance Committee Chair, State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County), and Sen. State Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) has all slammed gambling makers for how they entered the state without permission and hurt lottery sales.
The games work much like a slot machine. But after the initial spin, players on the skill slots can adjust the symbols to create a winning pattern to earn extra money.
Business owners get a share of that money. Many told WAVY that the presence of games helps keep customers in their business longer, spending money on other products.
“They help generate income. Help pay the staff. And the staff are even warned about these things. It’s awesome,” said Sean Deans, manager of the Hilltop location at Kelly’s Tavern in Virginia Beach.
He said the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the injunction was issued.
“Customers are thrilled to have them,” Deans said. “Let’s see it again. Develop a plan.