Banning skill games in Virginia could be bad bet for convenience store owners

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND,Va. (WRIC) — On a Friday afternoon, the inside of the VA Food Mart in Richmond is all abuzz with the ringing and pinging of games of skill. The gaming machines have been popping up in area convenience stores but the General Assembly is threatening to take the convenience store’s cash cow away.

The Virginia House of Delegates recently voted to do away with them.

“It would hurt my business generally speaking sales because people are buying stuff as they are playing you know, they are buying chips, soda, drinks,” says Keyur Patel, part owner the VA Food Mart.

Patel added the Queen of Virginia machines to the store on Jefferson Davis Highway nine months ago and customers love them. 8News watched a steady stream of people pop in to play, which Patel says has an added security benefit.

“Somebody is always there in the store along with us so chances of robberies are less,” he said.

City Councilman Michael Jones has raised concerns about the games. He’s noticed many are showing up in low-income neighborhoods.

“Southside is being proliferated with these particular machines,” Jones said.

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson also raised concerns about the machines, which are often called gray machines because they operate in the gray area of Virginia law.

She asks, “The machines that we see in our convenience stores that wreak havoc in our communities, there’s no licensing or anything for them? You can just plug it up?”

She’s right, they’re not regulated or taxed. There’s an estimated 9,000 of them currently in operation throughout the commonwealth.

“It’s not right that they are allowed to operate without any oversight and regulation any rules of the road, any tax benefit to the locality or the state,” Kevin Hall, the executive director of the Virginia Lottery, said.

Hall told our sister station WAVY in Virginia Beach, it’s cutting into their profits and what they can give to schools.

“Our sales cut by up to $140 million dollars in this year that means 40 million in less profit that goes to K through 12 schools,” Hall said.

However, Patel hasn’t seen a significant change in his lottery sales. “They’re doing both, I feel,” he said. Patel as well as Queen of Virginia Skill and Entertainment, the largest owner of the skill games, says a better bet is to regulate and tax the games.

“We all need to pay taxes, so I am not afraid of paying it,” Patel told 8News.

Queen of Virginia has said if regulated and taxed some of the revenue can benefit schools. The Senate still needs to vote on the measure.

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