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South Boston council urged to take advantage of ‘games of skill’ revenue potential / August 31, 2020
South Boston Town Council members were made aware of changes to Virginia state law concerning electronic “games of skill” at a Thursday work session at Council Chambers. The town stands to reap additional tax revenue if members agree to approve to amend the town zoning’s ordinance to accommodate changes in state law.

“The rules have changed,” said Town Manager Tom Raab.

“Games of skills” — a type of video gaming machine — would be legal with a $1,200 monthly tax imposed on each machine in town limits. Localities get 12 percent or $144 per machine per month in tax revenue. With seven machines, the town could receive $9,000 over the next nine months, in addition to the $150 fee for the special use permit required of business owners.

“These machines will only be in establishments regulated by the ABC board,” said Raab, adding it will take about six weeks to amend the town code.

Any business, in all town business zones, which can sell alcohol is allowed to have a gaming machine. It is possible after one year the government might allow this to continue after seeing the generated revenue. Gov. Ralph Northam expects the tax to generate about $150 million for the state, with proceeds set aside for COVID-19 relief funding.

“The machines have popped up everywhere in the county,” said Mayor Ed Owens, adding this is another possible revenue stream for eight to nine months.

Expressing disagreement was Council member Bill Snead: “We get just 12 percent, then I’m totally against it,” said Snead, who said the Town should get 50 percent.

“Right now we get zero,” said Owens.

“The good thing is the ABC is taking on the challenge to enforce the regulations,” said Council member Winston Harrell, adding it would not be a duty of the town’s staff.

“Business are interested and it is profitable,” said Raab, who brought the idea to the board for a decision to be made at the next regular meeting in September.

Going into effect July 1, Senate Bill 971 — which covers illegal gambling, definitions, and skill games — was amended allowing skill games to be legal for a 12-month period ending June 30, 2021. A portion of revenues would go to the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund, two percent to ABC for administering the bill’s provisions, and 12 percent to localities in which the skill games are located.

The remaining 84 percent is sent to the COVID-19 Relief Fund and would be used by the Governor solely for the purposes of responding to the Commonwealth’s needs related to the Coronavirus Disease of 2019 pandemic.

At the next regular meeting on Sept. 14, in addition to the vote required for rezoning to allow gaming machines, Council will vote to approve the 2020 Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan, and appoint a replacement for Mark Thackston on the town’s Industrial Development Authority Board. Three applicants have submitted an application: Bonnie Bowman, Monica Edmonds and Kathryn Roberts. The board can make recommendations.

Council members also discussed and identified priorities for the town’s strategic plan with consultants Jeff Sadler and Natalie Hodge with Complete Community Economies LLC, located in Richmond. Plans calls for providing a positive and healthy quality of life, affordable housing, and affordable housing with upper story apartments in the downtown area. The plan also calls for beautifying Riverdale with green space, and renovating to the Randolph Hotel to attract more business and foot traffic downtown.

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