Virginia: Coalition launches anti-gambling ad campaign

February 2, 2024 3:11 PM
Photo: By Martin Kraft - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
  • Conor Murphy, Special to CDC Gaming Reports
February 2, 2024 3:11 PM
  • Conor Murphy, Special to CDC Gaming Reports

A coalition named Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines has launched a TV campaign to voice opposition against the legalization of skilled gaming or “gray” machines, arguing that they contribute to crime and violence in communities.

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Virginia casinos, including Rivers Casino in Portsmouth and the proposed Headwaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk, back the campaign that claims, “Convenience store slots, the so-called gray machines, bring crime and violence to vulnerable Virginia communities.”

The push against the machines comes as the Virginia General Assembly deliberates on their legalization, with some lawmakers, including Democratic State Sen. Aaron Rouse of Virginia Beach, advocating for legislation to legalize and tax the machines.

Rouse supports the move as a way to bolster small businesses, telling WTKR, “by supporting the most vulnerable businesses in our Commonwealth, we’re supporting the little guy.” However, opponents of the legislation argue that the ad campaign could mislead the public about the potential effects on the community.

The controversy centers around the machines’ presence in Virginia, which escalated before the pandemic, leading to a ban in 2020 that took effect in 2021. Despite this, legal challenges have ensued, causing uncertainty over the machines’ operational status.

Critics from Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines argue that unlike casinos, which underwent local voter referendums and a rigorous process to commence operations, the proposed legislation for skilled gaming machines lacks similar scrutiny.

Altavista Police Chief Tommy Merricks expressed less concern over the potential for crime. In an interview with WSET/ABC13, Merricks said, “if [grey machines are] done in the right way, legally, we will adapt, and we’ll make sure that things go OK. They come in to play the machines, they may buy a soda, they may buy a snack, they may buy gas, so, you know, it gets people to town.”

Proponents argue that the machines require skill to win, distinguishing them from traditional gambling and emphasizing the financial relief they could offer to small businesses. Despite concerns about exposure to minors, the proposed bill mandates players be more than 18 and assigns regulatory oversight to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.