Machines

Williams: Return of unregulated slots harms Virginia | Chroniclers

By Marty Williams

With the stroke of a judge’s pen on December 6, thousands of unregulated Vegas-style slot machines are emerging from the shadows and returning to convenience stores, gas stations, bars and other local businesses in your neighborhood. across the Commonwealth. The legally questionable and confusing action by Greensville County Circuit Court Judge Louis Lerner reverses the will of the Virginia General Assembly and the governor by blocking the state’s ban on these illegal machines which is entered into force just a few months ago.

Widely known as gray machines, slot machine-like devices previously operated in a legal gray area with no limits. Unlike the state-licensed and legalized forms of gambling – the Virginia Lottery, charity gambling, historic horse racing, and sports betting – there was no oversight of the gray machines. For most of the past five years, slot machine companies and some business owners have knowingly operated illegal machines, paid no taxes on their income, and put our children at risk because these machines were used. located throughout Virginia and near schools, parks, churches and neighborhoods. .

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No government authority was responsible for holding anyone responsible for these machines. Without inspectors, punters were exposed to exploitation. In an unregulated Wild West type environment, the fairness of the games could not be determined and the 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 it.

In addition, for four of the past five years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not reaped any tax benefits from these gray machines. For years, slot companies and the businesses that operated them paid no taxes on their financial gains. Instead, when a bettor lost, the maker of the machine pocketed the winnings, at the expense of Virginia taxpayers. Without government oversight, auditing, and no obligation to report the money, 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 supervision.

Even with a ban in place, thousands of people have been allowed to operate without any legal guidance for enforcing illegal gray machines in towns and villages in Virginia, thus undermining regulated forms of gambling that pay taxes and support people. local charities throughout the Commonwealth.

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

Now that the illegal gray machines are reappearing in Virginia, lawful charitable games and the millions of dollars they generate in charitable donations are once again under threat, as are the people who depend on generous donations from our charities.

To make matters worse, Judge Lerner’s action is hurting law enforcement in Virginia as it creates even more confusion, putting the gray machines in the same legal shadows. His ruling does not make these illicit devices legal, 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 attest to the fact that Justice Lerner’s questionable decision creates a legal ambiguity that makes it nearly impossible for 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 behaviors are allowed to flourish unchecked without any consequences for those who harm the state.

The General Assembly will meet soon for its next session. As delegates and senators make their way to Richmond, it is important that they know that the gray machines they have banned are once again causing confusion and problems for law enforcement personnel. Virginia regarding enforcement issues and once again do great harm to veterans, religious groups, fraternal service organizations and charitable groups.

With the new COVID variant skyrocketing, lawmakers must stop these illegal gambling operators who take money away from those who play by the rules. Our state leaders should also protect the Virginia Lottery and state licensed and regulated gaming, including charitable gaming, which provides vital support to the people and organizations that make our state strong. As the legislative session begins, I encourage members of the General Assembly to identify and permanently ban slot machines that are not licensed by the state.

Williams is Chairman of the Virginia Charitable Gaming Council and Legislative Chairman of the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police. He is a former president of the statewide Virginia Fraternal Order of Police who served over 25 years with the Chesapeake Police Department in Virginia, retiring as a Detective Sgt.