Windsor Planning rejects gambling parlor

Published 6:30 pm Friday, January 24, 2020

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A Tarboro, North Carolina, couple’s proposal to convert the former Anna’s Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria, 15 E. Windsor Blvd., into “Reba’s Gaming Parlor” — an establishment that would offer pay-to-play, casino-style video games with cash payouts to winners — received a unanimous “no” recommendation from Windsor’s Planning Commission on Wednesday.

Earlier that evening, the matter had been put to a public hearing, which drew only two speakers — both in opposition.

“Is it luck, or is it skill?” Windsor Boulevard resident Katherine Queen questioned, referring to the distinction in state law between “games of skill,” which are currently legal in Virginia if a player’s knowledge has some impact on the outcome, versus “games of chance,” most of which are illegal.

“My research found it’s neither; the machines are programmed,” Queen continued. “The owners can program whatever payout they want to … 50 percent, 40 percent … the customers have no idea the odds.”

Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle, the other speaker that evening, added that the presence of video gambling parlors in other Virginia communities has been tied to an uptick in crime.

“There’s been a series of armed robberies in the city of Portsmouth,” Riddle said. “They have a large number of these parlors. Most of them don’t even have business licenses.”

“There hasn’t been an armed robbery in the town in eight years,” Riddle continued. “I’d like to keep it that way.”

The Tarboro couple itself — Tony and Reba Blackley — was absent from the meeting, and therefore, unable to answer questions or refute any of the points in opposition made that evening, a fact that did not go over well with the commissioners.

“If they don’t have the courtesy to show up … that’s a red flag right there,” said Commissioner G. Devon Hewitt.

While Commissioner Larissa Williams questioned whether Reba’s Gaming Parlor would actually be any more likely to be robbed than other businesses in town, she agreed that, “The fact that they’re not showing up to represent their business is a huge red flag for me.”

Town Attorney Fred Taylor added that there are currently six bills pending in the General Assembly that would close the “games of skill” loophole. Some bills have proposed including “games of skill” in Virginia’s definition of illegal gambling, he said, while others have proposed tasking the Virginia Lottery Commission with taxing and regulating the computerized gambling industry.

“Something’s going to happen,” Taylor said. “It would surprise me if every one of these bills got struck.”

With the Planning Commission’s vote now on record, the Blackley’s application for a conditional use permit will next head to Windsor’s Town Council in March for another public hearing and a final vote.