Local store owners aren't too happy with talk of a possible state ban on so-called "gray" machines, skill-based convenience store video games that elude state laws against games of chance.
"I think it's dumb," said Crystal Sims, cashier at the Sunrise store on Westover Drive. "If they want to gamble, they're going to gamble, regardless."
During a presentation Monday in Richmond on the impact of possible casinos in five cities in Virginia, a state lawmaker floated the idea of a possible ban on "gray" machines — so called because they exist in a gray area of Virginia law and are unregulated. In fact, the state has left it up to local prosecutors to determine whether the games are legal or not.
Staff with the Joint Legislation Audit and Review Commission — the research arm of the Virginia General Assembly — presented the report to commissioners. State Sen. and Commission Chairman Tommy Norment, R-James City County, mentioned the possibility of legislation to ban such games.
Commission member Del. Ken Plum, D-Reston, expressed concerns about the machines' presence in Virginia.
"They're quite extensive," Plum said during the JLARC meeting. "Under what legal basis do these [games] exist?"
There are about 4,500 to 9,200 of the skill-based games found statewide, said JALRC Project Leader Joe McMahon, who presented the casino report to the commission.
The study found that gray machines bring in substantial revenue and are competing with authorized forms of gambling and depressing those revenues.
Virginia does not collect gaming taxes on those devices' revenues and the study estimated that those games generate from $83 million to $468 million annually.
The state could address the issue by having the court decide the games' legality, ban them, or regulate the devices, the vendors and the manufacturers and collect taxes on their gaming revenue, McMahon pointed out in the presentation.
Those games are a hot topic in Danville because some convenience stores have them and are trying to get city permission for customers to play them.
The ongoing question of indoor recreational gaming in Danville started with an anonymous complaint, which led to zoning inspectors shutting down dozens of machines that were already operational. Without a special-use permit, operating the games could be a misdemeanor because of contradictions to the city zoning ordinances.
Several stores are going through the process with the city of trying to get their indoor games permitted and turned back on.
Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, would not say whether he supported the idea of banning the machines across the state.
"I have not read the bill," Marshall, who attended the JLARC meeting in Richmond, said Tuesday. "I don't feel like, right now, I can make a comment on about it."
Monday's meeting was the first time he had heard the idea of a possible ban, Marshall added.
Michelle Adkins, who wants to open a 50-machine gaming facility at the former Something Special Restaurant and Lounge location at 401 S. Ridge St., said, "I'm still going to do what I'm going to do until it's against the law."
If the state bans the skill-based games, "they're going to ban Rosie's ... they're the same type of games," said Adkins, who would open the gaming facility with her business partner Justin Williams.
Colonial Downs, which operates Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums in other parts of the state, plans to bring the off-track horse wagering facility to Danville to feature historical horse racing machines, which have the look and feel of a slot machine, but has an outcome based on past horse races. Voters in the city approved pari-mutuel betting, or what amounts to an off-track betting facility, in the Nov. 5 referendum.
City Manager Ken Larking said he cannot take a position on a possible ban, but said the state should examine the issue of gray games.
"It does make sense for the state to take a look at what these machines are and what they aren't," he said. "Some type of regulatory framework could be applied to them. It's just a lot of unknowns about this."
Kiesha Cobbs, manager at Charlie's Stop & Shop on Franklin Turnpike at North Main Street, said a ban would affect the business and its patrons who like to play the six games at the store.
"It would affect the customers more than the store," Cobbs said, pointing out that the people who play the games also buy the store's products.
Charlie's store has a special-use permit for its games, she said, but they were not operating Tuesday. When customers walk in and see they're not on, they leave.
Back the Sunrise on Westover, Sims said people will find a way to gamble, no matter what. As for the issue of problem gambling, everyone has some sort of addiction, she added.
"Everybody has a habit, I don't care who you are," Sims said.