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Skill games approved in town business districts / October 08, 2020
South Boston Town Council agreed Monday to allow gaming machines inside all town businesses licensed by ABC, opening a new stream of revenue for town coffers.

The action by Council comes on the heels of a state law that provisionally legalizes the so-called “games of skill” through June 30, 2021. The General Assembly is expected to vote next year on whether to make the legalization permanent.

The state is imposing a $1,200 monthly tax on each machine, with localities receiving a 12 percent cut. State funding will be used for COVID-19 relief purposes. Town Council can use the money in the budget as it wants.

The vote to approve an ordinance amendment was 5-1, with Council member Bill Snead voting against the motion. Snead also cast the only “no” vote on a follow-up motion to charge a separate $200 annual town fee with each machine.

The revised ordinance allows ABC-licensed businesses in all commercial districts to offer the machines, which are similar to slot machines, although the makers say there is an element of skill involved in playing and winning.

Snead expressed his opposition to the games and also faulted the $200 annual fee, saying the town should demand more. “I don’t think $200 is enough, myself,”Snead said.

The only person to address the issue was Bill Powell of American Amusements, which has placed games of skills at businesses around the state, including at some 40 locations in Danville and Pittsylvania County.

“I’m not a very large operation,” said Powell, but he has seen the machines take in varying amounts based largely on where they are located. He said he’s seen situations where two machines may take in as little as $5,000 over two weeks, and four machines taking in up to $100,000 over the same time span.

Powell is working with Nameem Chuudhery of American Pride convenience store on Wilborn Avenue to place four machines inside his business.

In other action, Council members agreed to move forward with a VDOT SmartScale application to redo traffic patterns on Wilborn, Broad and Main Street, turning both Main and Broad into two-way streets. The project will require the construction of two roundabouts — at Wilborn and Broad, and at Broad and Main at the foot of downtown. Each roundabout will cost the town an estimated $250,000, for a total project cost of $500,000.

Town Manager Tom Raab said it could take up to nine years to accumulate the needed funding through the SmartScale program, and he recommended that the town set aside money in annual chunks to reduce that timetable to a little as five years. “It’s going to take five years, at least,” Raab said.

Snead was the lone member to oppose the VDOT application. “I think it’s going to take a significant amount of traffic away from the 25 or so businesses on Wilborn Avenue,” he said. Snead added, “I think as a council, we haven’t fully discussed the implications” of two-way traffic on Main and Broad.

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