Virginia skill gaming terminals continue to operate around the commonwealth, despite the vast legal uncertainty surrounding the controversial machines.
In a rather unique move, Virginia legalized skill gaming devices during the height of COVID-19 in order to help small businesses offset some of their pandemic-related revenue losses. The slot-like gaming apparatuses require players to identify a winning payline.
The terminals’ temporary legalization expired July 1, 2021. However, a county judge earlier this month granted a temporary injunction against Virginia banning skill-based gaming machines from operating inside restaurants and watering holes, convenience stores, truck stops, and elsewhere.
The Virginia skill gaming confusion stems from an ongoing lawsuit. That action is challenging the legality of whether state politicians have such power under the US Constitution to ban something that is otherwise widely legal.
The lawsuit is being led by Hermie Sadler, a former NASCAR driver who today owns several convenience stores as part of Sadler Brothers Oil. Greensville County Judge Louis Lerner ruled on December 6 that the skill gaming ban violates First Amendment rights.
Attorneys representing Sadler argued that the games are not unlike typical arcade games. They said the physical interaction of the player and machine, paired with the skill component, qualifies the entertainment machines for First Amendment protection.
The plaintiffs say the state government is overstepping its authority in banning the machines. State attorneys say the issue isn’t the skill component, but the cash rewards that are dispensed.
This isn’t about civil rights,” countered Virginia Assistant Attorney General Erin McNeil. “This is about profit. You can have video games where you want, but you can’t offer cash prizes.”
The state is appealing Lerner’s decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Virginia repealed the skill gaming authorization as four land-based commercial casinos begin construction. Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol all met certain economic hardships to allow voters to decide whether to use a gaming project to help revitalize their regions.
Speaking with Virginia’s Courthouse News Service, state Sen. Bill Stanley (R) says elected officials in Richmond must remedy the skill gaming matter when the legislature convenes on January 12.
These court rulings demonstrate a need for the legislature to fix the problems that it alone created,” Stanley declared.
Prior to the July 1 ban on skill gaming, the machines were regulated by the state Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC). The ABC was tasked with collecting fees on the terminals, which generated more than $130 million for the state during their legal run.
The 2021 ban removed skill gaming regulatory duties from the ABC. This month’s court-ordered injunction allows skill gaming to resume, as the state has no regulatory powers.
“The circuit court’s injunction has resulted in immediate and complete deregulation from the bench,” Virginia Deputy Solicitor General A. Anne Lloyd wrote in the state’s petition to the high court.
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