Virginia Skill Game Dispute Heads to Conference Committee

Posted on: February 26, 2024, 11:19h. 

Last updated on: February 26, 2024, 11:33h.

The legal dispute over skill games in Virginia is headed for a legislative conference committee where assigned lawmakers will attempt to resolve how the controversial grey machines operate in the commonwealth.

Virginia skill game legislation
A woman plays a skill game at Kelly’s Tavern in Virginia Beach on July 29, 2022. Legislation to establish a legal framework for the controversial skill games is moving to a conference committee. (Image: The Virginian-Pilot)

Virginia temporarily legalized skill games amid the pandemic to help small businesses offset revenue losses. The terminals are slot-like machines that allow players to compete for real cash, but differ slightly from casino games in that they involve an element of skill. The state then made the games illegal effective July 1, 2021.

A lawsuit, however, successfully won an injunction in Greensville County Circuit Court that allowed businesses to continue offering the skill games as a legal challenge brought against the state by Sadler Brothers Oil played out.

The injunction was dismissed last October when the Virginia Supreme Court said the county judge erred in issuing the ruling. The state’s highest court said the Sadler lawsuit contending its First Amendment protections were violated has little chance of prevailing and therefore the injunction was unwarranted.

Legislative Deadlock

Many Virginia lawmakers believe skill games should be allowed, but the Richmond bureaucrats have varying thoughts on how the terminals should be regulated.

House Bill 590 has been greatly amended and overhauled as it’s passed through the House and Senate committees and subcommittees. The legislation passed the House by a vote of 65-34 earlier this month after being significantly rewritten during committee reviews.

Upon receipt, the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee further substituted language. The vast changes prompted the Senate to call a special conference committee to negotiate a compromise.

They’re so far apart it’s going to have to go to conference,” said state Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin). Stanley represents Sadler Brothers Oil in the truck stop’s skill gaming lawsuit.

HB 590 initially proposed taxing skill gaming revenue at 15% and charging a flat $250 registration fee per machine each year. The legislation was amended as it made its way through the House and Senate committees to increase the tax to 30%.

The Senate also recommended jacking up the registration fee to $3,000 per machine, with annual renewals set at $125. Skill gaming manufacturers would need to pay the state an annual $1 million registration fee and route distributors would pay $250K per year.

Committee Compromise

Virginia Senators hope a middle ground on skill gaming can be found in the legislative conference committee.

In Virginia, conference committees are temporary panels usually consisting of three delegates and three senators who try to remedy legislative differences in the House and Senate. The committee members are expected to come from the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee.

If a deal is reached, the conference committee will prepare a resolution that would then be considered in each legislative chamber. If majority support is found on the compromise, the bill would then go to Gov. Glenn Younkin’s (R) desk.

Youngkin has expressed support for skill games and believes creating a regulatory framework will help law enforcement better crack down on illegal gambling operations.

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