Dozens gather in Norfolk to protest proposed ban on skilled gaming machines

Posted at 5:24 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 18:20:52-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Monday, dozens of people gathered outside of Azalea Inn in Norfolk to express their disappointment and frustrations in lawmakers’ efforts to ban skilled gaming machines.

The skilled gaming devices are used in certain restaurants, bars, truck stops and convenient stores throughout the state.

People can win money while playing them.

Tommy Posilero said he owns Mona Lisa’s Restaurant and Bar. He said they just moved from Ocean View to Military Highway.

“The hardest thing for a business owner is to get them in the door. You got to get them in. Those machines have gotten 30-40% of my new customers in the door,” said Posilero.

He said it is hard to run a small business and said the machines have helped him tremendously financially.

At Mel's Place, skilled gaming machines have brought new life to the restaurant.

"I've been here 21 years, and the last 10 years I've struggled quite a bit until these machines came in. I don't struggle anymore," said Melody Weekly, the restaurant's owner.

“Regulate and tax the machines and let us give a portion to charity,” said Lynn Jennings, owner of Footers Pub in Virginia Beach. “Take a little bit from us but let us keep them. What is it hurting?”

Lawmakers in Richmond are considering banning the gaming machines. Efforts have passed in both the House and the Senate. The bills look slightly different and have been sent to conference committees.

"Please tax and regulate. Don't ban them. Don't take them away from us. The small businesses in the area really need them," said Weekly.

Across the state, there are more than 7,000 Queen of Virginia Skill and Entertainment machines. They're similar to video slot machines, but require skill. So far, they've been allowed to operate, but it's considered a gray area. Some lawmakers say the machines are cutting into the Virginia Lottery and are upset the machines started popping up before lawmakers approved them.

"I was just really shocked at the revenue they brought into the business," said Weekly. "They helped me do a lot of needed upgrades around here."

Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed taxing them, but about a month ago told News 3 he wants lawmakers to work out their legislation.

"We'll let them vet that and then I'll see what gets to my desk," he said. "Then, I'll deal with it appropriately and do what's in the best interest of Virginia."