Gov. Youngkin’s Inaction Leaves Virginia Skill Games Bill in Limbo as Veto Deadline Looms

A bill that would legalize slots-like skill games across Virginia remains in limbo, awaiting action by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin after earning bipartisan support from the state’s General Assembly. The governor has until Monday, April 8, to take action on any remaining legislation passed during the recent legislative session—including the state budget.

If Gov. Youngkin fails to take action by the deadline, the bill will become law by default, but without his signature. That outcome has occasionally been seen with controversial gambling bills in other states.

While the governor vocally backed Virginia skill games in the past, there are indications his support has waned, even as small businesses push for regulation. Youngkin has issued several vetoes since the legislature adjourned without backing his plan for a proposed $2 billion tax-payer-funded arena in Alexandria.

According to The Washington Post, Youngkin hinted that the skill game legislation’s ties to the arena’s chief roadblock, Sen. L. Lousie Lucas, could make it a veto target. Then, in an audio statement posted on X in mid-March, Youngkin associated skill machines with a Democratic vision for Virginia at odds with his own.

There are two visions for Virginia, Youngkin said:

My vision which is more jobs, more opportunity, more prosperity, make sure we reduce the cost of living, and we invest in those critical elements that support that. Their vision for Virginia, candidly, is let’s tax everybody as high as we possibly can. Let’s put a pot shop on every corner, and let’s put a slot machine in every 7 11.

Governor Could Veto or Amend Legislation

Besides vetoing the skill game bill, Youngkin could amend the text and send it back to the assembly for reconsideration. That’s something Virginia Del. Paul E. Krizek would back.

Notably, Virginia’s House and Senate skill game bills started similarly. The texts diverged once Krizek—chairman of the chamber’s gaming subcommittee—successfully petitioned for a rewrite of the House version. Among other things, Krizek’s tweaks gave the Virginia Lottery control of skill machines and required background checks for everyone involved with the games’ operation.

However, the current legislation compromised many of his rewrites. Krizek told the Post he hopes the governor returns with amendments that align the bill closer to his substitute.

That earlier version offers another path, he said.

If he does amend it, we’ve given him a really good road map.

Interestingly, despite identifying as a “big supporter” of skill games while campaigning in 2021, the governor now appears more tentative.

In an interview on WNIS radio posted to his YouTube channel, Youngkin said businesses must be allowed to do business.

Skill games actually do enable so many small businesses to not only grow their business but also simply to survive.

Still, a statement shared by his spokesperson, Christian Martinez, in late March indicates the bipartisan effort is far from a done deal.

The governor is closely reviewing the legislation and budget language sent to his desk, but still has numerous issues to work through including the regulatory structure, tax rates, the number of machines, impact on the Virginia Lottery, and broader public safety implications. In 2021, when asked about this industry broadly, candidate Youngkin intimated interest in what expansion to these activities in convenience stores could potentially look like in Virginia, but now he has to look at the legislation presented.

Businesses Say Skill Game Revenue ‘Critical’

Supporters of regulating Virginia skill game machines, including many small business owners, want the governor to act on his campaign promises.

The community rallied at Capitol Square in Richmond at the end of March, urging Youngkin to sign the legislation and repeal the current ban. They argued that skill game revenue was critical to small businesses’ survival during the pandemic and is still needed today.

Bhavin Patel, a member of the VA Merchants Amusement Coalition (VAMAC), told the Virginia Mercury he owned a few “mom and pop” convenience stores.

He said he hopes the governor stands by his word.

As the debate around the regulation of skill games unfolds, I hope that Gov. Youngkin stands by what he said on the campaign.

However, it’s also possible Youngkin could do nothing at all, and skill game machines would still become legal.

While signing or vetoing the bill outright would have an immediate consequence, skill games become legal in Virginia by default if Monday’s deadline passes with no action from the governor.

Notably, there’s a precedent: governors avoiding a stand and letting gambling legislation take effect without signature.

In 2015, Indiana’s then-Gov. Mike Pence, who was against gambling expansion but unwilling to outright veto it, allowed a bill to pass without signature.

Similarly, in 2018 and 2019, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice allowed gambling bills to become law without his signature. In Justice’s case, he owned the Greenbrier Casino and had already faced suspicions of conflicts of interest. In both cases, keeping gaming legislation at arm’s length was politically prudent.

On Tuesday, Gov. Youngkin announced he’d signed 100 bills into law and vetoed 4. However, the skill game bill was not part of the announcement.

By Monday next, following the solar eclipse, whether Youngkin has decided to take a stand or go with the flow will become clear.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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