Northam proposes delaying skill machine ban to help fund COVID-19 relief, asks for dedicated school funding from casinos

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RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — When Virginia legislators return to Richmond next week, gaming legislation will again be a topic they need to deal with.

Over the weekend, Governor Ralph Northam sent bills that would legalize casinos and sports betting, and ban skill machines back to the General Assembly with amendments.

When it comes to casinos, Northam wants to see money funneled explicitly to public school construction, renovations or upgrades before the process moves forward. Currently, all tax revenue will go into the state’s General Fund after the local tax share, problem gaming and family services funds are taken out.

The bill that passed, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), would allow only the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Richmond to host casino gaming. Voters in each city would also have to vote via referendum to allow for a casino in their city.

At the earliest, casino gaming in the commonwealth is still roughly 4 years off, according to JLARC.

Northam’s other major action related to gaming already here, will keep what has become known as “skill” or “gray” machines, around a little longer.

Last month, the General Assembly voted to ban the unregulated devices that the Virginia Lottery says is the reason they expect to lose nearly $140 million in sales.

Often found in bars, convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants across the state, local business owners have protested the proposed ban saying the machines help make ends meet. The calls to keep the machines have only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many of those same businesses to shutter.

Northam proposed a substitute bill that would put off the ban for a year, while taxing the machines.

Each device would be taxed $1,200 monthly, according to the governors substitute. With 84 percent of the money going to the newly created COVID-19 relief fund.

“I’m asking the General Assembly to establish a #COVID19 relief fund to help small businesses get back on their feet and provide support to nursing homes, Virginians looking for employment, individuals with rent and mortgage issues, and people experiencing homelessness,” Northam wrote on Twitter on Sunday night. “I’m proposing a tax on electronic skill games that would generate more than $150 million a year for the new fund. I urge Virginia legislators to approve this plan when they return to Richmond on April 22 so we can get Virginians the aid they need to weather this crisis.”


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