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City shutters six gambling establishments

FRANKLIN

The City of Franklin has a message for anyone who has opened a gambling establishment within the city’s limits since July 1: close or we will shut you down.

Earlier this year, Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation defining pay-to-play, casino-style video games that give cash payouts to winners as illegal gambling, even if they are “games of skill” rather than games of chance.

The law was supposed to take effect on July 1, but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Assembly is allowing establishments that had gaming machines in place prior to July 1 to keep them through July 1, 2021 — provided they have a state license to sell alcohol and pay a $1,200 tax to the state, a portion of which will go to the host city or county.

After discussing the issue during a Sept. 28 City Council meeting, Franklin sent cease and desist letters to six gaming facilities that had opened within city limits over the past few weeks, including one on South Street that was the site of an armed robbery on Sept. 25.

Due to staff transition, some of these businesses obtained permits “without full vetting,” City Manager Amanda Jarratt said.

Others had applied for permits for a by-right commercial use, but then turned those businesses into gaming establishments. City staff has since instructed Franklin’s Community Development department not to issue any zoning clearances for any proposed new gaming facilities.

Each of the six gaming establishments to receive a letter has since closed without necessitating the involvement of Franklin’s Police Department, Jarratt said.