The games in action. Courtesy of Michael Barley.

What would you do if a private sector industry not only generated revenue for small businesses across Virginia but was also willing to give $140 million in tax revenue for the commonwealth?  This is a revenue stream to support schools, roads, bridges, traffic congestion and so on.
What if I told you that there is an industry that exists right now in the state that already did this last year and wants to keep doing it for years to come? 

I’m talking about the skill gaming industry. The video games you frequently find in local small business establishments such as restaurants, bars, convenience stores and gas stations. Today, more than ever, small businesses need revenue from skill games. This is particularly true in rural Virginia. The pandemic and recent economic hardships are hitting these parts of the state hard as the cost of food and supplies keep going up and the number of staff keeps going down.

This is why restaurants and bars in rural areas are looking for additional ways to earn revenue.

These games help pay the bills and general upkeep of an establishment and provide increased
pay for their employees, so they won’t go looking for other jobs. It allows businesses to take
care of things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

In 2020 when the Virginia General Assembly decided to place a special tax on skill games that went into a COVID Relief Fund, it was a win/win for everyone. Virginia received $140 million in revenue for the state budget and businesses with skill games had a way to keep their doors open during a difficult time.

Unfortunately, that law was allowed to lapse last year and skill games in the state had to be
unplugged. This led to hard times for businesses and a revenue decline for the state. Illegal,
unregulated games popped up across Virginia. What happened next was that local communities were not seeing funding re-invested in their communities. 

Fortunately, an injunction was ordered in December 2021 that allowed legal skill games to
resume operation in Virginia. A judge’s decision meant businesses could turn their games back on. They will stay on as we await a final decision from the courts in a few months.

I applaud NASCAR great and business owner Hermie Sadler for going to court and challenging the state on its decision to end skill game regulation. He understands what this means for small towns and areas that are set away from urban centers.

I have seen firsthand how these skill games benefit rural communities. Small business owners
are happy because customers come and stay in their establishments for longer periods of time and order a cheeseburger and beer or two while playing these games.  And the state was
pleased because they had tax revenue to invest in Virginia projects. 

We need to make sure Virginia regulates skill games so that mom and pop restaurants continue to make it, especially today when they are facing higher costs for energy, goods and employees.

As we look to recover economically from a tough few years during the COVID-19 pandemic and other hardships, we need our elected officials to do all they can to support Virginia businesses and that includes supporting skill games. 

Justin Pence is a partner with WJZP, an amusement company in Edinburg.