With court case stalled, skill-game industry keeps cash flowing to Virginia politicians
Almost two years after Virginia lawmakers voted to ban so-called skill games, two of the colorful, slots-like machines were installed at a Richmond convenience store a block from the state Capitol, unmissable to legislators and political aides popping over for coffee or energy drinks.
Similar machines in at least two other Richmond-area convenience stores recently displayed a message saying some of their revenue goes toward Virginia’s COVID-19 relief fund. It did once. But that claim hasn’t been true since July 1, 2021, when the state stopped regulating and taxing the machines as they were formally declared illegal.
The industry is fighting that ban in court, battling the state to a lengthy standstill that, since December 2021, has allowed the machines to continue operating in a sort of legal limbo, with no oversight from regulators and no public revenue from gaming taxes. That uncertain status was meant to be temporary, but the litigation just hit the two-year mark with no clear end in sight and almost no forward movement in the first half of 2023.
The original court injunction that kept skill games running — and raised doubts about the constitutionality of treating them as illegal gambling — was set to expire in May of 2022, with an expectation the case could have been resolved by then. More than a year later, it’s still unclear when and how clarity might come on an issue some see as an ongoing failure by the state to set a clear, enforceable and legally defensible policy.
Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt, one of several local government officials to voice frustration on the matter, said it’s “imperative” that someone makes a final decision on whether the machines are going to be legal or not.
“Having no clear direction on licensure, taxation, or regulation creates a frustrating position for localities,” Jarratt said. “When citizen complaints are filed with the locality, we find ourselves in a position not to be able to provide them with any guidance or resolution to their concerns.”
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