Column: Support veterans by vetoing gambling machine legislation

The Virginian Pilot
Column: Support veterans by vetoing gambling machine legislation
Wild Casino

American Veterans (AMVETS) is one of the foremost veterans’ service organizations in Virginia and the United States. We have a proud history of assisting Virginia veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. AMVETS Department of Virginia exists to serve the veterans of America’s armed forces who live and work in Virginia through the services rendered at both our state level and on the local level through our AMVETS posts.

One of the ways AMVETS raises funds to serve Virginia veterans and their communities is through Virginia’s charitable gaming regulatory framework, which is regulated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

A disastrous bill for Virginia’s veterans is currently on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk: Senate Bill 212, which would legalize tens of thousands of “skill game” slot machines in public places. The ramifications of legalization will cause severe harm to our fundraising efforts to support veterans in need. Legalizing these machines in every local convenience store and gas station will hurt other forms of authorized and legal gaming and will hurt revenue to the Virginia Lottery and veterans’ service organizations and other charitable organizations particularly hard.

For seven of the last eight years, companies manufacturing and distributing these so-called “skill” slot machines operated in Virginia in bad faith, without authorization from the General Assembly or regulation by the state government. For years, tens of thousands of skill slot machines operated in public places with a total lack of accountability for the game operators.

Since we couldn’t trust them to follow the law then, we can’t trust them now. It is imperative that Youngkin veto SB212 and any other bill legalizing these games so that untrustworthy skill gaming machines do not infiltrate our communities.

Virginians already have plenty of legal opportunities to gamble at casinos, horse racing venues, the lottery and sports betting. We don’t need an industry with a record of going outside the law and exploiting Virginians with odds stacked against the player with the promise of prizes while having no guarantee of a fair payout.

In addition to harming legal gaming, tens of thousands of skill gambling machines everywhere in Virginia will especially harm income to churches, community groups and veterans service organizations.

Even more concerning is that the proliferation of skill game machines will undoubtedly create large scale criminal activity in Virginia communities. Speak with law enforcement officers and they will tell you that anytime there is a large amount of loose cash in a public place, that location quickly becomes a prime target for crime and money laundering. The presence of these machines at convenience stores and gas stations will increase loitering, which further increases the potential for crime in local neighborhoods. SB212 does not require establishments hosting these machines to have adequate security measures.

The General Assembly banned these machines in 2020 and 2022, so it has been disheartening to see legislation recently pass (barely) the Virginia General Assembly. After seeing that vote, I refuse to stand by and watch such a harmful bill pass without speaking up.

If Youngkin signs SB212, it will open the floodgates for tens of thousands of these machines to pop up in every local neighborhood in Virginia — increasing crime, gambling by minors and harming income to charitable organizations.

I urge the governor to consider the far-reaching consequences of SB212 and veto it outright. By vetoing this bill, he can send a clear message that Virginia stands firmly for protecting Virginia’s veterans, families and communities. A Youngkin veto will also send the message that Virginia stands for the rule of law and if bad actors operate unauthorized in the commonwealth of Virginia, they will not be rewarded.

Mike Fries of Roanoke is president of American Veterans Service Foundation and former state commander of American Veterans (AMVETS) Department of Virginia.