Prominent anti-skill game activist worries about exploiting kids, but has connections to registered sex offenders who have done just that

As the Virginia General Assembly considers regulations for skill games, new information has surfaced about Tad Berman, a prominent critic of the games. Berman, who in 2014 founded Virginians for Integrity in Horse Racing and Casino Gambling, has been vocal about the risks he believes skill games pose to minors.

But he has connections to individuals with serious criminal records involving child exploitation.

Berman has been a leading figure in the movement against skill games, often citing the potential for the games to appeal to minors and contribute to gambling addiction. Just last week, he authored a piece arguing skill games adversely impact children.

Yet he has associated himself as a founding coalition member of Virginians Against Neighborhood Slot Machines, a group that was led by Taj Mahon-Haft and David Smith, both of whom are registered sex offenders convicted on charges related to child pornography.

Mahon-Haft, a former Radford University criminology professor, was arrested in 2013 and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography, which police found while investigating a possible burglary. They also found drugs and drug paraphernalia. In all, Mahon-Haft was arrested three times throughout the investigation and ultimately was also charged with assaulting a police officer, according to The Columbian.

He later pleaded guilty to 50 counts of possession of child pornography and numerous drug possession charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release.

Smith — whose affiliation with Mahon-Haft is documented in this YouTube video featuring an interview for Mahon-Haft’s inmate advocacy organization, “The Humanization Project” — is a former pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Norfolk. He was investigated by local police who found photos on his computer of young girls between the ages of 6 and 11 engaged in sexual acts with adult men.

Smith, who was married with three children, was barred from seeing his children as a condition of his initial bond, according to 13 News Now. He ultimately pleaded guilty in 2013 to 10 counts of possessing child pornography and was sentenced to three years in state prison.

While questions have been raised about Berman’s motivation, it’s not clear if he’s being paid or otherwise compensated for his advocacy against skill games or whether he’s had any interaction with Mahon-Haft or Smith.

But Berman is also heavily involved in the horse racing and gambling industry, which have opposed skill games. Historical horse racing, which combines elements of slot machines and traditional wagering, has been promoted as beneficial for Virginia’s horse industry. However, like traditional gambling, this form of wagering has also raised social concerns, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas.

The coalition against skill games includes significant players in the gambling industry, such as Caesars Virginia and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol, as well as various religious and law enforcement groups, further suggesting the group’s work is more aligned with supporting one industry over another.

The regulation of skill games remains a hot-button issue in Virginia, with Gov. Glenn Youngkin seeking a legislative solution that would tax and regulate the games, potentially bringing in hundreds of millions of revenue for the state.

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