The Bulletin

Casino-booster’s bill would ban slot-like games popping up in bars and gas stations

By: - January 7, 2019 4:26 pm

Games that allow people to bet money and win cash have popped up around the state, including in this Richmond corner store. Manufacturers say they’re games of skill, not chance. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A Virginia lawmaker carrying legislation to legalize casino gambling wants to ban unregulated slot-like games that have popped up in gas stations, convenience stores and bars around the state.

Though the machines look and function like slot machines, manufacturers of the games argue they don’t violate the state’s prohibition on gambling because they add elements of skill.

Usually the skill in question is a players ability to recognize when they’re one symbol away from a jackpot and press a second button to complete the pattern.

Whether that constitutes a true skill for the purposes of the state’s gambling statutes has so far gone unchallenged by local prosecutors, who have in the past cracked down on other attempts to work around the state’s gambling statues.

Legislation proposed by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, appears aimed at banning them entirely in Virginia, inserting the following language into the state code governing gambling: “Any gaming device that includes skill as a component for successful play while providing a random prize amount to a winning player shall be deemed a gambling device.”

Lucas has for years carried legislation to legalize casino gambling and has introduced the measure again this year, during which pro-casino groups are mounting a large and well-funded lobbying campaign.

Her office did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Monday.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.