He says Virginia stores won't 'survive another winter' if skill games aren't legalized

Posted at 6:24 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 18:24:49-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- While Governor Glenn Youngkin and state lawmakers were able to reach a deal on Virginia's budget for the next two years, they said they will keep working on a potential deal to allow skill games to be turned back on.

"What we decided was that we would pick that up on another day. And that's the commitment that we've made in the same spirit that we made a commitment to work on this budget," Youngkin said during the ceremonial budget signing on Monday.

"Skill games are still very much alive," said Munir Rassiwala in response to the development.

Rassiwala owns nine convenience stores that once housed the machines, and is a member of the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition (VAMAC) that has been advocating for the legalization of them. "We're hoping to come back and do another special session and sort this skill game bill out."

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Munir Rassiwala

If a deal is reached to be voted on by lawmakers, it would be a continuation of Monday's special session which did not adjourn, but recessed.

Lawmakers had approved a skill games bill during the regular session, but Youngkin made several changes including restricting the machines within 35 miles of a casino, race track, or satellite location or 2500 feet of a school, daycare, or place of worship -- which advocates say was essentially a statewide ban.

"They were not tenable at all. So, those are definitely being excluded," said Rassiwala.

Lawmakers rejected those amendments and the original bill is on Youngkin's desk and he has until Friday to either veto it, sign it into law, or let it become law without his signature.

Rassiwala said the areas they are working on compromise include which agency oversees the machines and a referendum to allow localities to opt out -- something Youngkin mentioned Monday.

"Giving citizens a voice to make sure that we were addressing some of the potential criminal aspects that might arise," said Youngkin.

Rassiwala said even if it is a temporary framework to start, while larger regulatory details are ironed out, the biggest thing they are focused on is to get the machines turned back on as soon as possible.

"As long as it can start, because the need is that small businesses would not survive another winter -- which is probably the most horrible time for our business," he added.

However, opponents to skill games -- Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines -- said in a statement that special sessions cost taxpayers over $46,000 per day and are supposed to be for critical issues, not policy disagreements, and added: "the amount of oxygen being wasted on convenience store slot legislation is truly embarrassing for our Commonwealth."

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Rassiwala added with a path forward laid out VAMAC members who took part in a protest over the weekend and stopped selling Virginia Lottery tickets, have resumed sales.

He said up to 500 stores were taking part at some point during the Thursday to Monday time period it was in effect.

A spokesperson for Virginia Lottery said retail sales were up about 9.8% (around $ 2.9 million) during that time period compared with the same time in 2023 ($32,426,550 in 2024; $29,526,231 in 2023.)

When asked about potential penalties for businesses that took part in the protest, a spokesperson for the lottery sent the following statement:

"Virginia businesses that sell Lottery tickets, meaning they partner with the Lottery to help raise funds for K-12 public education, have a contract with the Lottery in which they agree to sell Lottery games and redeem winning tickets. The Lottery works with each individual retailer as to what works best for them, and we make it a practice not to tell retailers how to run their business."

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