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House Democrats complicate Virginia’s skill games bet

A gambler rings up a win on a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 8, 2022.
Wayne Parry
A gambler rings up a win on a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 8, 2022.

Virginia officials from both parties supported a seemingly simple effort to legalize skill games at the start of the General Assembly session. But the issue recently got a lot more complicated.

The original version of the House and Senate bills to legalize skill games were about five pages long. But after Alexandria-area Delegate Paul Krizek got through with it late last week, it jumped to 71 pages.

“There’s plenty of ways to lose your money, maybe win,” Krizek, long a skill game-skeptic, said Friday.

And the delegate's concerns were on full display as he chaired a subcommittee meeting last week which was almost entirely devoted to amendments to the House skill games bill he and others released about a day earlier.

Among changes are a new three-tiered licensing fee structure, switching oversight from Virginia ABC to Virginia Lottery, more limits on the numbers of machines that could be installed, limits on win amounts from single locations, as well as more money for Lottery and state police to develop enforcement systems.

“We’d really be able to tamp down on all the illegal gaming that might be going on here, and allow these convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops to do it under this robust regulator scheme,” he said after listing some of the proposed amendments.

The bill would also push legalization to the start of 2025 and, perhaps most devastatingly, it empowers localities to pass ordinances or put the issue on the ballot before it becomes legal within their community. That means lots of lobbying by skill game companies to convince local officials to allow their games.

Chesapeake-area Democratic Delegate Cliff Hayes, the original bill’s patron, appeared a bit shocked by the changes.

“Well, again, I guess we’ll just continue the conversation," Hayes said.

“This bill has a long way to go,” Krizek replied.

The amended bill was still unanimously approved, and it’ll head to full committee next. Whether the House and Senate can find a middle ground that Governor Glenn Youngkin can also sign off on, remains to be seen.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.
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