It looks like Danville will not try to come up with a proposed definition for indoor recreation until after the state decides the legality of so-called “gray” machines.
Members of the Danville Planning Commission informally decided during a work session Thursday afternoon to wait until the General Assembly decides whether to allow skill-based indoor electronic gaming machines. The machines, found in a handful of businesses across the city, play like a cross between video games and slot machines.
All six members present for the work session agreed after community development director Ken Gillie recommended holding off. Commission member Art Craft was absent.
“I’m in favor of a wait-and-see attitude,” Gillie told members.
There are 20 gaming-related bills in the General Assembly, with some pertaining to skill-based machines in convenience stores, commission members pointed out.
“I will admit I did not read all 20 of those bills,” commission Chairman Harold Garrison said during the work session.
House Bill 881, which would ban skill-based games in restaurants, truck stops and retail stores all over the state on July 1, passed the House of Delegates by an 80-15 vote Wednesday. A Senate committee passed a Senate version of the bill by a 14-2 vote, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday.
Another bill would regulate them, Gillie pointed out.
“At this point, it’s still kind of up in the air,” he said.
More than 32 other Danville businesses — the majority of which are convenience stores — have attempted to obtain special-use permits to operate skilled gaming machines, a process that has dragged on for months as city officials attempt to define indoor recreation. So far, nearly every case has bounced back and forth between the planning commission, which has backed, tabled and opposed permit requests, and the city council, which has generally sent back those requests.
Only two companies have been able to obtain special-use permits from city council: Kickback Jack’s and The King’s Cudgel.
Commissioner Bruce Wilson asked where city council stands on the matter of coming up with a definition.
“To me, we’re really having to make some very intricate kind of definitions here,” Wilson said, also referring to the state bills. “It was just mind-boggling the level of detail in these bills.”
Wilson wondered aloud if the planning commission should delay the matter.
“Would it be wise to simply take a breather here?” he said.
Garrison pointed out the city needs to have a definition for indoor gaming.
Gillie, however, said he was concerned about inadvertently disallowing something under a definition only to have the state end up permitting it, resulting in the city being in violation.
“It would be prudent to see what happens at the state level,” he said.
The commission could write a definition and recommend it to city council only to have councilmen refuse to deal with it and the matter would be put on hold again, Wilson cautioned.
It would then be on city council, whose members are elected, Garrison suggested.
“They can take the heat,” Garrison said.
Concerns about skill-based gaming aside, he added, the city still needs a definition for indoor recreation.
Gillie reiterated his trepidation over possibly excluding something the state would or would not allow.
“I’m afraid to write something that’s going to create an issue,” he said.
Commissioner Ann Evans asked if city council gave the planning commission a timeline for proposing a definition.
The council told the commission to take six months Garrison noted.
“Well let’s take six months,” Evans said.
Garrison walked back his “six months” statement and said those were just his words and it was his feeling council wants the matter postponed.
“My feeling is they would like us to delay this until it goes away,” Garrison said.
Even if the planning commission were to write a definition right now, he added, it would not be on its agenda until March and before council until April.
Garrison wrote a proposed definition he read before commissioners. He took chapter four of the city code pertaining to amusement places and made it all-inclusive.
“That would include any type of game,” he said. “It may need to be wordsmithed.”
“It does,” Gillie responded.
Wilson asked if the matter could be passed on to the city attorneys to sort through and make a recommendation to the commission.
“The problem of defining indoor recreation does not go away” if the state decides on skill-based games, Garrison responded.
As many months as everyone has been waiting on decisions on the special-use permits, “what’s one more month going to hurt?” said Commissioner Tommy Dodson.
City attorney Clark Whitfield told commissioners the 2020 General Assembly session ends March 7.
Commissioners agreed to postpone the matter until the state makes a decision on skill-based games.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.