Hundreds of Virginia Convenience Stores Protest Skill Game Amendments

Retailers stop lottery ticket sales over Youngkin’s changes to legislation that they say could shut down thousands of stores
virginia convenience store skill game protest
Photograph courtesy of the Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition

More than 500 retailers in Virginia staged a two-day protest earlier this week over Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s amendments to legislation to allow skill games that they say could permanently shut down thousands of convenience stores. Members of Virginia Merchants and Amusement Coalition (VA MAC) participated in a day of action urging Youngkin and members of the General Assembly to reverse the governor’s amendments and keep the original version of SB 212, the skill game regulation bill, in place. Action included stopping the sale of lottery tickets.

Youngkin’s amendments include a 45% tax rate for small businesses and a 35-mile skill game radius from any gaming establishment.

Sen. Aaron Rouse sponsored the bill, which passed the House and Senate. The skill games debate will continue on April 17, when the General Assembly meets for the veto session. The bill lifts a ban on skill game machines that Virginia lawmakers implemented in 2021, according to a report by gaming news site Play USA. The ban stems from the games’ resemblance to slot machines and games that require skill.

“For weeks, we have all continuously requested to meet with the governor or his team, and he has ignored all our pleas,” Rich Kelly, president of VA MAC, said in a statement provided to CSP. “This is a slap in the face to the thousands of small business owners like me, who have put our lives and livelihoods on hold to advocate for skill games this legislative session. Gov. Youngkin has done nothing but ignore our small business owners and coalition in the process.”

He added, “VA MAC organized two days of action to show the economic impact that the permanent closing of convenience stores will have on the Virginia Lottery, the tax revenue they generate and local economies across the Commonwealth. We feel Gov. Youngkin has put the priorities of multi-state, internationally owned major gaming corporations over the priorities of Virginia small business owners. Unfortunately, this was the only way we could make our voices heard since the Governor’s office refused to meet with small businesses on this issue.”

VA MAC member Munir Rassiwala owns Ali’s Place in Scottsville, as well as convenience stores in the Farmville and Gloucester areas, and he says the new framework allowing skill games is crucial to their successful businesses.

But Rassiwala says the governor wants to add 20% to what is already a 25% tax—the highest in the nation—to the skill games sales. Also, the 35-mile-radius skill game ban the governor wants to set away from gaming establishments such as casinos or horse racing facilities, as well as smaller distances from churches and schools, is grossly unfair, he told Charlottesville Radio Group.

The Governor’s Office disputes the 45% tax claim saying it’s 35%, according to the report, and 5% of that would go to a Gaming Regulatory Fund, with any amounts considered excess going to Elementary and Secondary Education Fund. Another 5% is proposed for the College Partnership Laboratory School Fund.

Cessation of lottery ticket sales is to show the effect these stores have on state revenue, and a one-hour closure from 3:50 to 4:50 Tuesday afternoon to show customers, communities and localities the “harmful impact” of the amendments, the group said.

Jarnail Singh, another member of VA MAC, operates a Shell gas station in Chester. He has been picking up shifts, something his business partners at nearly a dozen locations across the state are also doing because the current ban on skill games required him to cut back on employees.

“These machines really helped us, running a business on a daily basis. We had customers come in and buy products, which helped with daily sales,” Singh told Radio IQ.

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