Judge ruling

Virgina's ban on 'skill games' on hold until trial in May 2022

Virgina Senator Bill Stanley (right), attorney of former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler (left).
Reading time 1:57 min

A Virginia judge issued a temporary injunction on Monday blocking the enforcement of a law that since July has banned a type of electronic betting machine, mostly referred to as "skill games", that had proliferated in gas stations, bars and other small businesses around the state. The petition for this came from business owner and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler.

After a hearing, the judge determined that the law was too vague and violated First Amendment rights. The new ruling puts the so-called skill game ban on hold until a trial set for May 18, 2022, said Bill Stanley, a GOP state senator and attorney representing Sadler, whose truck stop and gas station company brought the lawsuit. Stanley said he was headed with Sadler on Monday evening to a company truck stop to turn the machines there back on, the Associated Press reports.

“All we’ve ever wanted was to be treated fairly. And tonight’s ruling gives us a feeling that we’re going to get that,” Sadler said.

The Virginia General Assembly voted in 2020 to ban the machines, but operators got a one-year reprieve after Gov. Ralph Northam asked lawmakers to delay the enactment by a year and instead tax the machines and use the revenue to help fund coronavirus relief efforts. The ban took effect this July.

Lawmakers took on the machines at the same time they were clearing the way for other types of gambling, including opening the doors for casinos in Virginia for the first time, across five different cities. Companies that make and distribute the machines spent heavily on campaign donations and lobbying in an attempt to keep them legal in Virginia. The games look and play like slot machines, though the manufacturers say there is an element of skill involved.

“What has happened to us is wrong; not just me, but everybody,” he said. “We have every right to operate our business just like everybody else does, including the new ones that are trying to come into the commonwealth.” He noted that he has no issue with casino gaming coming to the commonwealth, but that casinos shouldn’t come at the expense of small businesses.

Sadler’s company filed suit this summer against Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. His company argued in court documents that the ban has caused confusion about what a “skill game” is and has hindered law enforcement’s ability to prohibit illegal games. The lawsuit argues the ban, under law SB 971, is unconstitutional and has adversely impacted small businesses. 

The case was heard in Greensville Circuit Court after the attorney general’s office sought unsuccessfully to move the case to Richmond. Sadler and his attorneys are set to return to court on May 18.

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