Legislators Reject Youngkin’s Skill Games Limits

by | Apr 18, 2024 | COMMUNITY NEWS, RICHMOND POLITICS, SMALL BUSINESS, VIRGINIA POLITICS

Will skill game machines resembling slot machines return to convenience stores? Not immediately, but legislators have set the stage for these machines to potentially make a comeback, should the Governor choose not to intervene.

In a bipartisan measure, Democrats and Republicans rejected the Governor’s amendments on skill games. The Senate’s vote was decisively in favor, enough to override a veto should Governor Youngkin choose to roll the dice and use his veto powers. The bill did not come before the House, where the legislators narrowly voted in favor but did not have enough votes to override a potential veto in a vote earlier this year.

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Legislators Reject Youngkin’s Skill Games Limits Will skill game machines resembling slot machines return to convenience stores? Not immediately, but legislators have set the stage for these machines to potentially make a comeback, should the Governor choose not to intervene. In a bipartisan measure, Democrats and Republicans rejected the Governor’s amendments on skill games. The Senate’s vote was decisively in favor, enough to override a veto should Governor Youngkin choose to roll the dice and use his veto powers. The bill did not come before the House, where the legislators narrowly voted in favor but did not have enough votes to override a potential veto in a vote earlier this year. Read more, link in the bio. ✏️: @goadgatsby • • • #rva #richmond #rvamag

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The coalition in support of these skill machine games looks like a checkerboard of blue and red. Republicans, such as Delegate Jerry Kilgore, acknowledge that revenue from these games will fund highways in western Virginia and give teachers raises. Democrats, like Senator Saddam Salim from Fairfax, said that for some store owners, skill games saved their business during the Covid-19 pandemic. “All these are folks who came to our nation for an opportunity. And for us to say that we gave you that opportunity, but we want to restrict that opportunity, we are going to see a lot of issues.”

A Republican voice against Governor Youngkin’s amendments is Senator Bill Stanley has stated that, who has stated that small businesses with skill games are treated by the law as “more dangerous than methadone clinics.”

One group opposing skill games is Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines. Conservative radio host John Fredericks describes them as a coalition of law enforcement, faith, and community leaders. These groups have collaborated to produce advertisements against skill games. The ads, which resemble negative attack ads seen during election seasons, feature scary commercials. Further exploration of their YouTube channel reveals interviews with Victoria Cobb and Todd Gathje from the Family Foundation, an anti-trans and anti-abortion group that recently warned that legalizing cannabis could lead to a “pot shop on every block.”

The Family Foundation is not alone in their opposition to skill game machines. Working alongside them against gambling are casinos. In an interview with Graham Moomaw of the Virginia Mercury, Chris Cylke from the American Gaming Association stated that skill games lack oversight, age verification, consumer protections, and security.

Skill games in convenience stores received substantial support from store owners who lobbied during the General Assembly’s regular session. Many of those lobbying for these games are part of Virginia’s Asian American community.

On Wednesday morning, supporters of skill games lined up outside Capitol Square to greet legislators and encourage them to reject the Governor’s amendments. Leading the group in chants was Diffaa Seleh of the Yemeni American Association of Richmond, who wore a suit, while many others donned yellow shirts reading “Keep Skill Games, Help Small Businesses.” Throughout the day, these bright shirts stood out in the gallery.

Legislators Reject Youngkin's Skill Games Limits by Goad Gatsby_RVA Magazine 2024 3

Another major player is Pace-O-Matic, the company that owns the machines in question. The company engages in lobbying for legislation. This corporation, based in Duluth, Georgia, is far from a small business. According to VPAP, Pace-O-Matic has spent over a half million in political contributions in 2023. In February, Pace-O-Matic sponsored a charity basketball game at the Siegel Center featuring Senators, Delegates, and even Governor Glenn Youngkin, who wore shirts with the Pace-O-Matic logo.

Pace-O-Matic’s relationships with legislators include Senator Bryce Reeves receiving a free trip to a rodeo in Wyoming. While it’s legal for a Virginia State Senator to accept such a trip, Senator Reeves has not been transparent about it. (If Pace-O-Matic is reading this, I would gladly accept a free rodeo trip and would proudly tell people about it.)

Legislators Reject Youngkin's Skill Games Limits by Goad Gatsby_RVA Magazine 2024 3
Pace-O-Matic logo during the Capitol Square Classic charity basketball game February 29, 2024.

In a statement from Governor Youngkin’s press secretary, Christian Martinez, he noted, “The Governor supports small business owners having access to skill games, and his proposed legislative amendments, stemming from discussions with a bipartisan group of members and dozens of outside stakeholders, would establish an important regulatory framework, enhance consumer and public safety protections, and grant localities and Virginians a voice.”

The Governor’s office also outlined how the taxation of skill games would work but did not mention how it would restrict store owners in areas that might not qualify, as complained about by Senator Bill Stanley.

What is often overlooked in this debate is the industry’s predatory nature. Delegate Rae Cousins, who represents Richmond’s Northside, voted against the skill game machines back in March. “It’s been a hot topic among my constituents. They’re typically located in low-income areas, which I think is predatory,” Cousins said in opposing the bill. “The amendments still don’t account for the enforcement that we need, or that I would be comfortable with.”

Not only are the gambling machines addictive to players, but the stores are also preyed upon. These store operators gambled by installing skill game machines, and now the future of their business depends on legislation that would allow them to operate those machines.

Looking into skill games took me on a lot of twists and turns. I originally thought it was going to be the little guys versus the big guys—like minority-owned small businesses against a large network of white evangelical conservatives. Instead, I found it to be the skill game company, Pace-O-Matic, competing against a network of casinos, with convenience store owners and religious leaders as the public face.

One thing I learned about gambling: the easiest way to not lose is to never bet what you can’t afford to lose.

Read more from Goad Gatsby HERE

Goad Gatsby

Goad Gatsby

A journalist from Richmond and contributor on Open Source RVA on WRIR 97.3FM.




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