Local businesses in limbo as Virginia’s skill gaming issue stalls

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – When the power to unplug skilled gaming machines was ordered in Virginia last October, Brett Creekmore says his business took a big hit.

“It will be detrimental if we don’t turn those slot machines back on like they did yesterday,” Creekmore said.

So much so that he is no longer the franchise owner of two of the three 7-Elevens he once owned.

“Do you think people would be surprised that this was such a large part of your income at the store?” News 3 asked Creekmore.

“Yeah, I don’t think they realize it,” he replied.

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Michael Woodward, WTKR3

A bill to re-legalize them was vetoed this year, leaving entrepreneurs like Creekmore without a major source of income.

Creekmore is still the franchise owner of a 7-Eleven on Battlefield Boulevard, but he fears he may lose that store as well.

“Everyone thinks COVID is over and everything is fine, but it’s not. It’s still hard,” he said.

Business owners remain in the dark about the machines, which are similar to slot machines but require players to make connections, which is considered a skill.

They were banned in 2021, but due to a one-time lawsuit, they were allowed to be played until last October, when the Virginia Supreme Court reinstated the ban.

During the General Assembly, lawmakers passed a bill legalizing them, but Governor Youngkin initially amended the bill before vetoing it.

“When it comes to additional gaming options, such as games of skill, we must continue with a robust set of safeguards,” Youngkin said in his veto statement.

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Youngkin did say he remained open to working with lawmakers on the issue, leaving the door open for a possible special legislative session to find a way to legalize it. However, a spokesperson for the governor recently told News 3 there is nothing new to report on that.

Although business owners hope they will be legalized, some still have them in their businesses, where they are supposed to be disconnected.

Recently, officers from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office went to check the 15 machine locations in the county and found reports that two of them had the games connected.

“They understand that they are illegal in Virginia today. They are not to be played with. The only thing we are not doing now is having them removed from their business,” said Sheriff Ron Montgomery.

News 3 heard reports that Miller’s Mart in the county with an address in Williamsburg had called them in. A reporter visited in late May and found the machines turned on, but no one playing them. The reporter returned a few weeks later and the games were no longer connected.

The store’s management did not call a reporter seeking comment.

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“We currently have several deputies who know where the machines are located in their patrol district, so they check them periodically (to make sure) they are not plugged in,” Montgomery said.

Business owners can face criminal charges if they are involved.

Newport News police say two people have been charged with illegal gambling in the city since October.

In York County, Sheriff Montgomery is hoping for voluntary compliance, but says it could get to that point if they find them.

“I believe that no matter how leniently we have worked with them thus far, if we discover that they are involved in an operation, we will sue,” Montgomery said.

As this period of uncertainty continues, business owners who have relied on it hope that they can bounce back somehow.

“It has been very prosperous for our community and everyone who works in it,” Creekmore said.