Did Virginia lawmakers accidentally vote to legalize skill games for another year?

Did Virginia lawmakers accidentally vote to legalize skill games for another year?
Skill games in a Richmond corner store. The games have popped up in gas stations, convenience stores and bars around the state. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

After giving so-called skill games another year to operate in Virginia late in the 2020 General Assembly session, legislators seemed to decide the time has come to pull the plug on thousands of slots-like gambling machines that have proliferated in convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops all over the state.

But some statehouse watchers think lawmakers may have actually voted to do the opposite.

Confusion recently spread among gambling lobbyists over a little-noticed provision attached to a bill that, on its face, makes it easier for officials to crack down on unregulated gambling.

That language, included at the end of a conference report lawmakers approved overwhelmingly last month in the closing days of the session, appears to create an exception for operators of charitable games like bingo, raffles and poker tournaments, specifying that some activity potentially impacted by the bill can continue until June 30, 2022.

The clause also covers other “regulated gaming” in existence as of February, a category that, if interpreted to mean skill games, could give the industry another year of life.

Because the bill was never explained as potentially sanctioning skill games for another year, some are suspicious the amendment was a ploy by a well-lobbied industry to slip something past policymakers.

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