March 22, 2021 3 min read


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Virginia Governor Nixes Skill Games after They Slipped Past Lawmakers

Whether by design or hapless oversight, a gambling bill making its way through the Virginia legislation included an option that wasn’t meant to be there. Skill games, a type of gambling terminal that has the look and feel of slot machines, have had a troubled history were introduced across the US, but Virginia was willing to give them a chance to show off as a way of offsetting the state’s COVID-19 revenue losses

They were authorized for a year last July and were only supposed to be around for 12 months. However, when the state’s General Assembly began discussing a bill on illegal gambling, skill games were, somehow, given a free pass to continue. Governor Ralph Northam wasn’t fooled, though, and has introduced an amendment to the bill to ensure the gaming terminals’ time in Virginia has come to an end.

Skills Gaming Falls Out Of Favor In Virginia

The skills gaming machines served their purpose, allowing Virginia to pick up $70 million to be used for a fund to help struggling businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. They made their entrance on a one-year plan last July, and, despite the revenue potential, a bill that would have allowed them to continue was killed in the General Assembly. 

However, a separate bill that redefines how illegal gambling can be prosecuted included a loophole that allows any regulated gambling activity that was in place as of February 1, 2021, to continue. Since skills gaming machines were legal at that time, they would have been exempt from the new laws.

Governor Northam has jumped on that language to extricate skills gaming terminals from the list. According to Virginia Mercury, he has submitted an amendment to the law that specially targets the machines, making them illegal as of July 1. The General Assembly still has to sign off on the amendment and, if it doesn’t, it is most likely an indication that lawmakers were intentionally trying to keep skills gaming alive well beyond the original plan.

Lawmakers Claim Innocence

Don Scott, the state delegate who sponsored the illegal gambling legislation, had asserted that he didn’t intentionally include skills gaming when the language for the bill was created. However, there was enough discord in gaming and legislative circles that it became apparent that skills gaming was about to be given a free pass. 

Northam had kept his finger on the pulse of any talk among lawmakers linked to the machines, emphatically determined since last year to make sure they couldn’t survive past this July. 

Skills gaming machines, according to some, are nothing more than a form of gambling that doesn’t require any skill. However, they have been able to operate in several states in a legal gray area because of the assertion that they require skill and are, therefore, not gambling in accordance with how most states’ gambling laws are written.

That gray area is shrinking all the time, and several states have already made them completely illegal. Now, after having survived in Virginia for years, including one year under the government’s auspices, it appears that skills gaming machines in the state are about to permanently have their plugs pulled.  


Erik brings his unique writing talents and storytelling flare to cover a wide range of gambling topics. He has written for a number of industry-related publications over the years, providing insight into the constantly evolving world of gaming. A huge sports fan, he especially enjoys football and anything related to sports gambling. Erik is particularly interested in seeing how sports gambling and online gaming are transforming the larger gaming ecosystem.

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