Guest View | The Return of These Unregulated ‘Gray’ Slots Hurts Virginia | Columnists

By Marty Williams

With the stroke of a judge’s pencil on December 6th, thousands of unregulated Vegas-style slot machines come out of the shadows and return to convenience stores, gas stations, bars and other local businesses in your neighborhood across the Commonwealth.

Legally dodgy and baffling action by Greensville County Circuit Judge Louis Lerner overturns the will of the Virginia General Assembly and Governor in blocking the state’s ban on these illegal machines that has gone into effect just a few months ago.

Widely known as gray machines, the slot machine-like devices previously operated in a legal gray area without limits. Unlike state-sanctioned and legalized forms of gambling—the Virginia lottery, charity games, historic horse racing, and sports betting—there was no oversight of the gray machines. For much of the past five years, slot machine companies and some business owners have knowingly operated illegal devices, paid no tax on their earnings, and put our children at risk because these machines were placed throughout Virginia and close to schools, parks, churches and neighborhoods. .

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No government authority was responsible for holding anyone accountable for these machines. Without inspectors, punters were vulnerable to exploitation. In an unregulated Wild West type environment, the fairness of games could not be determined and machines could easily be rigged against the player. Also, if a miner walked into a store and placed a bet on a gray machine, no one was there to stop them.

Moreover, for four of the last five years, the Commonwealth of Virginia received no tax benefit from these gray machines. For years, slot machine companies and the businesses that operated them paid no tax on their financial winnings. Instead, when a bettor lost, the machine manufacturer pocketed the winnings, at the expense of Virginia taxpayers. With no government oversight, audits, and money reporting requirements, the opportunities for money laundering were endless. This is in stark contrast to legalized forms of gambling, which are subject to strict financial regulation and oversight.

Even with a ban in place, thousands of people have been allowed to operate without any legal guidance for the enforcement of illegal gray machines in cities and towns across Virginia – thus harming regulated forms of gambling that pay taxes and support corporations. local charities across the Commonwealth.

Many charities, veterans organizations, church groups, volunteer fire departments, and community service organizations in Virginia currently hold state-approved charity games. These charitable groups have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years from charitable gaming revenue to support important local causes. For many years, through the proceeds of bingo games, these charities have given generously to help Virginians across the Commonwealth. After the illegal Gray Machines spread across the state, it severely hampered their ability to meet the needs of those who need help the most. The Virginia Fraternal Order of Police actually shut down the charity games because of the illegal gray machines.

Now that the illegal gray machines are resurfacing in Virginia, legal charitable gaming and the millions of dollars it generates in charitable donations are once again under serious threat, as are the people who depend on the generous donations of our charities.

To make matters worse, Judge Lerner’s action hurts Virginia law enforcement because it creates even more confusion, putting the gray machines back in the same legal shadow. His decision does not legalize these illicit devices, but it also does not allow police and prosecutors to stop them. As a member of the Virginia law enforcement community for 25 years, I can personally testify that Judge Lerner’s questionable decision creates legal ambiguity that makes it nearly impossible for dedicated law enforcement personnel of Virginia to protect the public, especially our children, from illegal gambling. Without clear rules, it is very difficult to know who is breaking the law and who is not. As a result, illegal behavior is allowed to flourish unchecked, with no consequences for those who injure the state.

The General Assembly will meet soon for its next session. As delegates and senators head to Richmond, it’s important they know that the gray machines they banned are once again causing confusion and trouble for dedicated Virginia law enforcement personnel. on enforcement issues and again do great harm to veterans, religious groups, fraternal service organizations and charitable groups.

With the rise of the new COVID variant, lawmakers must stop these illegal gambling operators who take money away from those who play by the rules. Our state leaders must also protect the Virginia Lottery and state-authorized and regulated gaming, including charitable gaming, which provides essential support to the people and organizations that strengthen our state. As the legislative session gets underway, I encourage members of the General Assembly to identify and permanently ban non-state-sanctioned slot machines.

Marty Williams is president of the Virginia Charitable Gaming Council and legislative president of the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police. He is a former president of the statewide Virginia Fraternal Order of Police who served more than 25 years with the Chesapeake Police Department in Virginia, retiring as a Detective Sergeant.