Virginia Gov. Youngkin Blocks Skill Games Bill at Last Moment, Returns to Legislature With Amendments

The fate of skill games in Virginia remains undecided, as Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed the bill at the last possible moment, returning it to the legislature with recommendations for amendment late last night. The nature of the amendments isn’t yet known, though they will be published on the legislature’s website shortly.

One possibility is that Gov. Youngkin may have heeded recommendations coming from Del. Paul E. Krizek. He told the Washington Post last month that he hoped Youngkin would demand changes similar to those Krizek had pushed for in the House.

Krizek’s House substitute bill would have seen skill machines treated more like a full-fledged gambling product. The machines in question hold an ambiguous gray market status in many states because they include an element of skill to circumvent traditional legal definitions of gambling. Krizek wants to see the Virginia Lottery provide oversight and control licensing for the machines. Among other things, this would mean criminal background checks as part of the licensing process.

As reported by Cardinal News, Youngkin implied to reporters earlier in the day that a veto with amendments was coming. He told them:

I have major problems with the bill that came over. And so we’ve been working to see if we can address those we’ll see. But I think we’ll continue to work all day, and we’ll have a final decision later this afternoon.

What’s Next for the Virginia Skill Games Bill?

The Virginia legislature will reconvene on April 17. At that point, negotiations on the skill games bill can resume.

If both halves of the legislature and the Governor can agree on a mutually acceptable framework, Virginia will become the second state to have formally legalized the machines.

Arkansas has been allowing such devices to operate—with an 18% privilege tax applied—since 2008. Conversely, Kentucky became the first state to use legislation to ban the devices last year.

Elsewhere, the machines have been the subject of numerous court battles. Finding a legislative solution has been much harder for most states because of political status quo bias. Once they’ve taken root in an area, the machines become economically important to the small business owners who host them. They then push back against any effort to ban the machines, while traditional gambling operators resist proposals to legalize and regulate them.

Gambling regulators sometimes attempt to take matters into their own hands with a crackdown. That’s typically where the courts come in, as the device manufacturers and operators argue that the machines aren’t a gambling product and that the regulators have no authority over them.

If the Virginia skill games bill does pass with amendments, the state’s nascent retail casinos will be unhappy, but at least the issue will have been settled.

Are Skill Machines Just a Political Bargaining Chip?

Further complicating the matter, there’s some suggestion that the fate of Virginia skill machines may be tied up with the seemingly unrelated issue of public funding for a sports arena.

Gov. Youngkin has a plan to spend $2 billion in Virginia taxpayer money to contribute to the construction of a new home for the Washington Capitals and Wizards. The proposed arena would go in Alexandria, Virginia’s portion of the Washington metropolitan area.

The connection between the two issues is largely Sen. Louise Lucas, a Democrat and the Senate’s president pro tempore. Sen. Lucas was instrumental—gleefully so—in having the stadium funding stripped from the state’s budget. She’s also one of the co-sponsors of the Senate version of the skill games bill.

That led the Washington Post and others to speculate that Gov. Youngkin might use his veto power over skill games—and a few other bills—as leverage to revive his stadium plans during the Reconvened Session.

Gov. Youngkin similarly issued last-minute vetoes for two other bills popular with Democrats:

  • SB14 would allow municipal governments to impose local sales taxes with a referendum in order to generate funding for education.
  • SB274 would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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