Bill sent back to lawmakers

Virginia: Governor Youngkin proposes stricter regulations on "skill games" machines

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Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed amendments to legislation aimed at legalizing and taxing skill games, introducing stricter regulations that could effectively restrict the operation of slots-like gambling machines in small businesses.

The proposed amendments seek to overhaul a measure passed by the General Assembly in March. They include provisions for a higher tax rate on the receipts from the machines and grant localities the authority to prohibit them, the Associated Press reported.

Additionally, the amendments impose placement restrictions on the arcade-style games, prohibiting their operation within approximately a half-mile radius of churches, daycares, and houses of worship. This move would seemingly exclude them from many metro areas already hosting gambling establishments.

While proponents of skill games have vowed to challenge these proposed changes, Youngkin's spokesperson Christian Martinez stated that the governor's amendments address "serious concerns" regarding the regulatory structure, tax rates, number of machines, and broader public safety implications associated with the legislation.

His amendments propose raising the state tax on skill games from 25% in the final version of the House's bill to 35%. Additionally, the amendments stipulate that the games must pay out a minimum of 80% of the money wagered.

Moreover, they grant cities and counties the authority to enact ordinances or conduct referendums to prohibit the operation of these machines. The maximum payout would be capped at $500, the report said.

The skill games bill is one of numerous measures Youngkin acted upon late Monday, as he faced a deadline to address legislation passed during the regular session that concluded on March 9.

Lawmakers are set to reconvene in Richmond next week to consider Youngkin's amendments and potentially override his vetoes, although they would need bipartisan support to reach the required 2/3 vote threshold.

The skill games debate has defied partisan lines. The debate has also seen the formation of a coalition advocating for legalization primarily consisting of small-business owners who operate the machines in establishments such as gas stations and restaurants, and who share in their profits. This advocacy comes in response to a ban enacted in 2020.

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