Reba’s Gaming Parlor voted down
Published 11:41 pm Friday, March 20, 2020
Windsor’s Town Council voted 4-1 with one absent on March 10 to deny Tony and Reba Blackley’s request for a conditional use permit to convert the former Anna’s Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria at 15 E. Windsor Blvd. into “Reba’s Gaming Parlor” — an establishment that would have offered pay-to-play, casino-style video games with cash payouts to winners.
Prior to the vote, the matter was put to a public hearing — its second of the year. The first had been before the town’s Planning Commission, which had drawn only two speakers — both in opposition. One of these was Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle, who claimed the presence of video gaming parlors in other Virginia communities had been tied to an uptick in crime.
The Tarboro, North Carolina, couple had not attended that Planning Commission meeting but were in attendance at the Town Council session, and in fact, were the only two speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing.
“We’ve never had a problem; we’ve never been robbed; we’ve never had a fight,” Reba said in defense of the proposed business, referring to other locations the couple operates in North Carolina. She then added that in her experience, it was primarily retired people who gamble at these types of facilities.
“They smoke their cigarettes and play,” she said. “We’ve had them play from the time the store opens to the time the store closes.”
The operating hours for the Windsor facility would have been 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sundays, according to Tony. The Blackleys were unable to provide the Council with an estimate for annual revenue, stating that some similar businesses they own bring in about $30,000 per week, while others bring in only $5,000 per week. According to Planning and Zoning Administrator Ben Sullivan, were the conditional use permit to have been approved, the town would likely have received 25 cents for every $100 in receipts based upon its coin business definition.
Town Attorney Fred Taylor then informed the Council that since the Planning Commission hearing, House Bill 881 had passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, and is awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature. This bill, Taylor said, specifically defines electronic games of skill as illegal gambling, exempting family entertainment centers that give non-cash prizes.
Lt. Tommy Potter, spokesman for the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office, had previously explained to the paper that games of skill are those where a player’s knowledge of the game has some influence on the outcome, such as in online poker where a player must build a hand of cards and can discard certain cards. Video slot machines, on the other hand, would be games of chance, since a player’s knowledge has no impact on the outcome. If signed into law, HB 881’s prohibition on electronic games of skill would go into effect starting July 1.
Following the public hearing, Councilman George Stubbs said that based upon the comments made at the Planning Commission meeting and his talking to town residents, “It is the feeling that I have been given that no one feels this is an appropriate business.”
Councilman Greg Willis added that, “This type of business and behavior goes against the very fiber of my being,” stating that he is also opposed to the Virginia lottery and other forms of gambling.
Councilman J. Randy Carr, who had been the one dissenting vote on the motion to deny the permit, had suggested tabling the matter until next month, by which time the Council would presumably know whether or not the governor had signed HB 881.