Skill game machines will be allowed in all business districts in the town of South Boston following a vote by town council at a Monday evening meeting at the Washington Coleman Community Center. Council’s vote followed a public hearing on the proposed changes pertaining to skill games, in which one person spoke in favor of the changes and no one voiced opposition.
Councilman Winston Harrell made the motion to approve the amendments to allow skill games in all of the town’s business districts, and vice-mayor Bob Hughes seconded the motion. The motion carried 5-1, with councilman Bill Snead casting the only dissenting vote. Businesses with skill games in operation must have an ABC license.
Town manager Tom Raab noted the change to the town code, Chapter 114 zoning, also defines skill games to mirror state law. The General Assembly passed a law adding skill game machines to the definition of “illegal gambling” in Virginia, but Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that delayed that action for one year, allowing the skill game machines to continue to operate legally until June 30, 2021.
Prior to the changes in the town’s zoning ordinance, skill games were allowed in two of the town’s four business districts by special use permit only.
Bill Powell of Danville spoke in favor of the proposed skill games amendments at the public hearing preceding the council vote. Powell is a partner with America Amusement, a distributor of skill game machines. Powell said he currently distributes machines at more than 40 locations in the Danville and Pittsylvania County area.
“In Danville they required us to have a special use permit as well, but once the governor changed the rules for us, they waived those, which is what you all are considering doing tonight. So I thank you very much for your consideration,” Powell said.
Snead asked Powell about the average profitability of the machines.
“We like to make $400 (inprofits) per month per machine. That’s our industry average,” Powell said. “I’ve seen two machines take in as little as $5,000 in two weeks, but I’ve also seen four machines take in as much as $100,000 in two weeks. It just depends on where the machine is located.”
Town council also voted to approve an amendment to the fiscal year 2020-2021 fee and tax list to charge a $200 yearly license fee for each skill game machine. Councilman Joe Chandler made the motion to approve the amendment, and the motion carried in a 5-1 vote, with Snead casting the only dissenting vote.
“I don’t think $200 a month is enough for what I hear is going into these machines. I’d like to see it higher,” Snead said. He added the General Assembly had concerns that the skill game machines would take away from lottery sales, where the majority of the proceeds go to education.
Raab said the $200 tax on each skill game machine would be effective immediately with council’s approval of the fee. Currently, the town manager said South Boston has 10 skill game machines in operation at local businesses.
Hughes asked Powell if the city of Danville had an annual fee on the skill game machines comparable to the one South Boston was imposing. Powell replied, “No.”
The $200 annual local fee is in addition to the $1,200 monthly tax imposed on each machine as a condition of the bill signed by Northam. Out of that $1,200 tax, the majority goes to the COVID-19 relief fund, while 12% goes to the locality where the machine is in operation.
Powell said his skill game machines were very profitable before the monthly tax was imposed. Now, he said he is faced with moving four or five of his machines to other locations because they are not profitable enough to cover the taxes on them. On the flip side, Powell acknowledges that if Northam had not signed the bill, skill game machines would not be legally operable in Virginia.
Prior to Monday evening’s public hearing and council’s vote on the skill games, the South Boston Planning Commission held a public hearing Sept. 30 on the proposed amendments to allow skill games in all of the town’s business districts. At that public hearing, Nameem Chuudhery of American Pride on Wilborn Avenue spoke in favor of the amendments, according to the meeting minutes. Chuudhery said the machines were allowed in every town in Virginia, and if South Boston allowed the skill games it would help his business as well as profit the town and the state because of the taxes on the machine.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, council approved a resolution of support for the town to apply for VDOT Smart Scale funding two intersection improvement/roundabout projects. The resolution also states that town council will appropriate $500,000 in local funding to the projects, which is $250,000 for each roundabout.
Councilwoman Sharon Harris made the motion to approve the resolution. Hughes seconded the motion, and the motion carried 5-1, with Snead casting the only dissenting vote.
The first project proposes replacing the stop-controlled intersection of U.S. Highway 501 at Wilborn Avenue/ Broad Street and Crescent Drive with a single-lane roundabout. The second project proposes replacing the stop-controlled intersection of 501 at Main Street/ Broad Street and Wall Street and Factory Street with a single-lane roundabout. Both intersection improvement projects reflect the conversion of Main Street and Broad Street from one-way roadways to two-way roadways, with Broad Street designated at 501 in both directions.
Snead said he is fine with making Main Street a two-way roadway but sees potential problems with making Broad Street a two-way roadway. He said he travels the road frequently, and sees traffic get “backed up at the post office” in the afternoons even with two lanes of traffic flowing in one direction.
Snead also raised concern that perhaps council was taking action on a major project too hastily without enough discussion prior to making the decision. Mayor Ed Owens replied that council would reassess transportation priorities more than once prior to allocating funding for the roundabout projects, and that it was possible other projects would take precedence over the roundabout projects.
“Before this is done, we’re going to have quite a few more bites of this apple,” Owens said.
Raab had previously told council securing all the funding for the projects would be at least an eight or nine-year process.
Council also voted to reappoint two members of the Halifax County South Boston Transportation Safety Commission — Curtis Waskey and Charles Newby — to another four-year term. The members’ current terms were set to expire Oct. 31.