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Skill machines get stay of execution to raise funds for COVID-19 relief

As skill machines return to Charlottesville, thousands of machines across the Commonwealth are raising millions of dollars for COVID-19 relief, including 100 at a single Downtown Mall location.

The proliferation of the machines follows a decision by Gov. Ralph Northam to allow the machines to legally operate in the commonwealth for a year.

A law that added skill games to the definition of illegal gambling was passed by the General Assembly this past session, but when Northam signed the bill he announced that skill games would be allowed to operate within the commonwealth until June 30, 2021, in a taxed and regulated environment. Northam’s announcement was coupled with a promise to veto any future legislation to extend the industry’s life any longer.

A provision of this reprieve is a monthly $1,200 tax per terminal, 84% of which goes to the state’s COVID-19 relief fund, 12% going to localities that host the games and the remaining 4% going to Virginia’s Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund and Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The move to tax the machines came after criticism that skill machines took away money from the Virginia Lottery, whose proceeds are used to fund public education in the state.

According to Joel Rubin, of skill machine operator Queen of Virginia, the company has 5,704 of the machines in Virginia. In July, Rubin said, the machines may have raised as much as $5.75 million for the relief fund.

Queen of Virginia is by far the largest distributor is the state, with their closest competitor, VGM of Virginia, LLC, operating 358 machines, according to numbers provided by Virginia ABC.

Earlier this year, it was estimated by the state that more than 9,000 skill machines were in operation across the commonwealth. Numbers compiled by state ABC show that more than 10,000 machines are currently registered throughout the state.

By the end of June 2021 it is estimated skill machines could raise as much as $150 million for the COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“Our goal is to be a great partner for the Commonwealth of Virginia and help maximize tax revenue for the COVID-19 relief fund,” Rubin said. “During these difficult times, we recognize this funding is critical. We believe skill games can provide reliable recurring tax revenue for the state, and we hope to demonstrate that over the next year.”

The number of Queen of Virginia machines located in Albemarle County and Charlottesville was not available, according to Rubin. However, various Queen machines had been installed in the Charlottesville since a lawsuit from the manufacturer spurred by city Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania was rendered moot by the new legislation.

Skill games are subject to regulation from Virginia ABC and distributors were required to provide a report earlier this month certifying the locations of the machines.

Numbers compiled by Virginia ABC indicate there are approximately 275 registered skill machines in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area. Many of these machines are located at convenience stores, but a few downtown restaurants have purchased skill machines, such as Shebeen Pub & Braai, Draft Taproom and Prime 109, the last of which is currently closed and has not announced when it plans to reopen.

According to registration data compiled by Virginia ABC, Prime 109 has 100 machines registered at its location, the largest number in a single location in the entire state.

The number was confirmed by a Virginia ABC spokesperson, who clarified 100 labels were cited on a report from Prime 109’s owner, Pantheon Restaurants. According to Virginia ABC, the machines are disabled per regulation.

Multiple requests for comment and clarification about the number of machines and plans for them were not returned by Prime 109’s owners.

Per state regulations, no more than eight skill game machines are allowed to be in operation at any single ABC licensed establishment and no more than 24 skill game machines are allowed to be in operation at any truck stop.

However, skill game machines can be relocated from one qualified location to another from July 1 through September 1, but the relocation is limited to 20% of the total number of machines initially registered by June 30.

Skill machines that were not registered by July 7 are not allowed to be operated and will be considered illegal gambling devices by Virginia ABC.


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