As faith leaders from across the commonwealth, we are deeply aware of the struggles and triumphs our communities experience. People are crying out for many things, but gambling in every gas station, convenience store, restaurant, and rest stop is not one of them.

Virginians must stand up against exploitative slots-like gambling machines and ensure lawmakers keep them permanently and totally banned from our great commonwealth.

In 2020, and then again in 2022, the Virginia General Assembly made these machines illegal. However, a grace period was extended during 2021 that delayed the enforcement of this ban during the COVID pandemic.

During that time, the number of slots-like gambling machines in our state doubled, putting far too many Virginians at risk. Unfortunately, if legislators succeed in legalizing the machines this time around, there is the potential for over 90,000 machines to pop up in every corner of our commonwealth.

Slots-like gambling machines’ business model is built on economically exploiting our communities’ most vulnerable people. That’s why elected officials like Delegate Mike Jones (D-Richmond City) noticed they were showing up in low-income neighborhoods during his time as a council member. This pattern holds true in other states as well. According to an analysis of the location of these devices in Illinois, there was a direct correlation between financial stress in a community and the number of gambling machines packed into the area.

These machines are commonly found in gas stations, restaurants, convenience stores, bars, rest-stops, and other locations that Virginians frequent in their day-to-day lives. They are a breeding ground for developing problem gamblers, and their widespread accessibility makes them hard for those who are most vulnerable to avoid even when running their daily errands.

Unlike other brick and mortar gaming establishments, residents do not have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether these slots-like gambling machines are right for their community, or even if they want to expose themselves or their families to gambling machines. Unlike going to a casino, Virginians do not have the option to never go into gas stations or convenience stores.

What lawmakers must realize is that when it comes to slots-like gambling machines, Virginians do not get a say. Unlike establishing a casino, there is no local referendum for the public to vote on gambling in their community. A vote by legislators to legalize these machines is a vote to bring gambling machines into every corner of the commonwealth, whether Virginians want it or not.

These machines have already been decided to be illegal by the Virginia Supreme Court. Legislation by the General Assembly would undo that decision.

Any affirmation in favor of slots-like gambling machines by the General Assembly would be detrimental to all Virginians who simply want to buy gas, take a stop from the highway, or go to a local restaurant without experiencing a pseudo-gambling parlor.

Finally, to those who say we need gambling machines everywhere in the commonwealth because we cannot afford to “lose” the tax revenue potential: the decisions we make as Virginians in how to fund our government reflect our priorities as a society. The source of Virginia government spending also reflects our priorities as a society. We, the undersigned, believe that if we desire increased government revenue to pay for priorities like healthcare and education, we should not shackle funding these essential programs to the existence of gambling machines in every neighborhood across the commonwealth.

The economic wellbeing, safety, priorities, and morality of the commonwealth are not a game. We urge our policymakers to reject any effort to legalize these reckless and exploitative gambling machines.



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