A slot machine showdown in Chesterfield parking lot highlights legal uncertainty

A slot machine showdown in Chesterfield parking lot highlights legal uncertainty
Tom Marino, legal counsel to Queen of Virginia Skill and Entertainment, denounces a Chesterfield County business as an illegal mini casino as a man who works at the business (right) watches. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A middle finger, sharp words, some auto mechanics threatening to call the cops.

The gritty, confusing debate over so-called “skill games” in Virginia reached new heights Tuesday outside a strip mall in Chesterfield, where the purveyor of one slot-machine-style game staged a press conference in front of a rival operation to call for it to be shut down.

“The location right behind me is simply a mini casino,” said Tom Marino, a former congressman from Pennsylvania who serves as legal counsel to Queen of Virginia Skill and Entertainment, which says it’s put between 4,500 and 5,000 of its own games in businesses around the state. “They’re masquerading as a coffee shop. But if you go inside, you’ll find rows and rows of illegal gambling machines. … It doesn’t resemble any coffee shop I’ve ever been in.”

The man behind the counter of the alleged strip-mall coffee shop casino was, perhaps predictably, not pleased to see what was going on in his parking lot.

The stunt sparked a slow-moving confrontation that ended with all parties accusing their competitors of breaking state gambling laws in a vivid illustration of the legal uncertainty that surrounds the games in the absence of any state-level guidance or action.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.