RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — There’s a push to bring gambling back to Virginia’s convenience stores and bars. 8News has learned the next Vegas-like entertainment could be video gaming terminals or VGT’s.
They’re a lot like slot machines but offer more gaming. Some state lawmakers believe they could be a winning bet for the Commonwealth and small business owners hurt by the state’s ban on skill games.
Keyur Patel who own Virginia Food Mart in Richmond says his bottom line has been hurt by the state’s ban on skill games. “The sales have dropped,” he said.
He estimates he’s lost 25-30 percent of his revenue. He says when customers came in to play, they would buy chips and soda as well.
He still has the old games. They now sit in a back corner of his store with “out of order” signs ever since the General Assembly banned the games, sometimes known as gray games, for operating in the gray area of state law.
He said, “The traffic has significantly dropped.”
With skill games out state, Senator John Bell believes there’s a better bet.
He said he thinks VGT’s could fill the void. He asked fellow lawmakers in a recent senate subcommittee hearing, “What are we going to do for all those small businesses that had grey machines and lost that revenue? This is a way to help them out.”
Bell and several other Virginia lawmakers recently traveled to Illinois to see how theirs are played.
“It is a game of chance,” he explained.
The lawmakers shared their findings with the Senate General Laws Gaming Subcommittee. “It is a more sophisticated kind of slot machine,” he said.
The electronic slot-like machines can offer 15 to 20 different games. The gaming area is usually partitioned off. “You got to be 21 to play, and it’s very regulated,” he added.
VGT’s are also taxed. That’s not a deterrent for Patel. He said, “If it is helping the community, helping the business as well, local. I have no problems with paying taxes.”
The machines have been a cash cow for the Illinois community. The machines bring in $70 to $80 million dollars a month according to the Illinois Gaming Board. “This revenue that comes in I think could do tremendous good,” Bell said.
A bill proposal and tax revenue breakdown from Bell calls for 10,000 machines statewide. It’s estimated those machines could generate totally more than $186 million dollars. A percentage of the revenue, about $1.9 million dollars would go to a problem gambling support fund. The Virginia Lottery would take in 3 percent, an estimated $5.6 million dollars and about a quarter would go to the locality, about $48.3 million. 70 percent of the revenue, an estimated $130 million dollars a year would go straight to the Commonwealth.
Bell has a plan to spend it. He said, “I would like to put 100% of this money towards rebuilding those falling apart schools.”
Still some lawmakers have concerns, they raised questions about why now and suggested it be better to let the casinos get up and running in Virginia first. The committee is continuing to evaluate it all.
VGT’s are likely to be brought up before lawmakers during the next General Assembly session.
Meantime, 8News did some some checking into the Illinois Gaming Board’s revenue reports and VGT’s make more money for that state than casinos or online betting.