Complaint: Virginia skill games ban is racial discrimination

ROANOKE, Va, – A group of Asian American business owners in Virginia has requested that the state’s attorney general investigate what they say is racial discrimination in a pending ban on electronic skill games in their stores.

The Roanoke-based Asian American Business Owners Association asked Attorney General Mark Herring’s office to effectively block the ban that’s set to go into effect Thursday by refusing to enforce it, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported.

“In recent years, gaming has been embraced by the commonwealth when it is enjoyed by the privileged in fancy casinos or by children in ‘family entertainment centers,’” the complaint filed on Saturday says. “But that very same activity is not acceptable when offered by Asian American-owned convenience stores or enjoyed by minority or marginalized populations.”

The association was founded in 2007 and says it represents about 200 convenience store owners, most of whom are Indian.

“What we are looking for is a level playing field,” president Dharmendra Patel told the newspaper.

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican from James City, supports the ban. He and Finance Chair Janet Howell, a Fairfax Democrat, said it was needed to stop the increase of previously unregulated game machines in convenience stores, truck stops and restaurants. They often directly compete with the Virginia Lottery, which is owned by the state and dedicates its profits to public education.

Howell called the games “sleazy” during a legislative debate last year, later clarifying that she was referring to “the big businesses that brought them into our state without permission or oversight.”

Virginia’s General Assembly voted last year to allow casino gambling and sports betting. In the same session, it passed the initial ban on skill machines.

The body decided to delay the ban for a year while taxing the machines $1,200 a month each and regulating them through the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. Before the ban was postponed, Gov. Ralph Northam agreed to oppose or veto legislation that would allow legal operation of the machines to continue.

More than $100 million in tax revenue was generated from the machines in the past year, which was allocated to helping small businesses impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

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