NASCAR Driver To Thank For Virginia Temporarily Lifting Ban On Skill Games

Posted on December 7, 2021 - Last Updated on December 8, 2021

When it comes to Virginia lifting the ban on skill games, you can thank a longtime NASCAR driver for the recent development.

VA business owner Hermie Sadler, who’s been a NASCAR driver and broadcaster on and off for the past 30 years, is the man behind the recent legislative change.

On Monday the Greensville Circuit Court granted a motion after 52-year-old Sadler filed a petition for a preliminary injunction. The injunction blocks the enforcement of a law, Senate Bill 971, that banned the so-called “gray machines” beginning on July 1.

At least for now, VA skill machines, which are usually found in small businesses such as convenience stores and bars, can turn the lights back on.

Why Sadler pushed for lifting the ban

Skill games look and operate much like traditional slot machines that you’d find in a traditional casino. However, because they include a questionable “skill” aspect to gameplay, they were able to operate and proliferate in a gray area of the law until the recent ban.

Virginia has a complicated recent history with the video gaming terminals.

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia lawmakers voted to give skill games a one-year reprieve before a ban went into effect. They even taxed and regulated them.

The efforts produced more than $100 million to combat the coronavirus in Virginia. As a result, Virginia business owners, including Sadler, hoped it would lead to the full legalization of skill games.

However, with Virginia already planning to launch legal sports betting and full casinos, business owners with skill games found little legislative support.

Sadler, who questions the constitutionality of legislation that bans skill games, owns truck stops in southern Virginia. Like other VA business owners, his bottom line took a hit when the machines went dark.

Next steps for Virginia skill games

The judge who heard Sadler’s case in Emporia, VA, said the law was too vague and, in fact, violated First Amendment rights.

With a robust legal team, Sadler filed the suit against VA Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring.

A hearing is set for May 18, 2022. Until then, Sadler and hundreds of other business owners can legally offer their skill games once again.

The owners get a cut of the profits from the machines. But there are also auxiliary benefits to offering the machines. Namely? The stickiness factor. As players feed the electronic games, they often purchase drinks and snacks from the businesses that house them.

For many of these business owners, the gray-machine revenue was a substantial part of their annual take.

As Sadler legal rep Bill Stanley told WRIC.com:

“Our battle has just begun. We come back in May for a declaratory judgment to make this permanent. We also have a battle probably coming up in the Virginia legislature, which you all need to be mindful of and vigilant. (That’s) because we want to make sure that there’s a permanent solution that helps small business, that saves small business, and allows these skill games in small businesses to compete with the big guys.”

Pace-O-Matic celebrates lifting the ban

Pace-O-Matic manufactures the popular “Virginia Queen” skill games. The Georgia-based business has been active in the Virginia market as a games provider.

Recently, the company has allegedly taken on a bit of a watchdog role. Recently, company officials have claimed there’s been a spike in skill machines that continue to operate illegally with no regulation, oversight or enforcement.

Pace-O-Matic has long been a proponent of a legal market for skills machines. They believe this week’s injunction is a positive step.

As the company stated in a release:

“This is a great day for Virginia small business owners who rely on skill games as a critical revenue source and provide entertainment to Virginia players. We want to express our gratitude to Hermie Sadler and his legal team for fighting for Virginia small businesses against this unconstitutional ban legislation. We remain hopeful that skill games will achieve a solid footing and that skill games are permitted to continue operating in the commonwealth for a long time.”

Photo by PlayVirginia / Dann Stupp
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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, MLB.com and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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