Virginia will soon implement its ban on “electronic skill games,” and a state senator and former NASCAR driver have filed suit to try to stop it.
Beginning July 1, Senate Bill 971 will ban electronic skill games from all businesses other than family entertainment centers.
On Monday Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, filed a suit on behalf on Hermie Sadler, a former NASCAR driver and broadcaster. The 52-year-old Virginia native also owns the Sadler Travel Plaza in Emporia and other retail stores in the commonwealth.
Like many small business owners in Virginia, Sadler says he’s relied on those electronic skill games to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of the machines are located in approximately 2,000 VA convenience stores, restaurants, bars, truck stops, and marinas. However, regulators will soon pull the literal and metaphorical plug on them due to the July 1 ban.
Unconstitutional to ban electronic skill games?
Stanley filed the suit in Greensville County Circuit Court. The lawsuit names Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
Stanley and Sadler held a press conference outside the Capitol in Richmond on Monday. They called the ban unconstitutional and said it’s therefore unenforceable. They also said it discriminates against the retail locations and small businesses that don’t market to families.
As Stanley said at the press conference:
“What we did in the General Assembly was wrong. They have chosen to pick on the small businessman because they’ve decided that skill games are unseemly, and they’re not. They are the backbone of what has allowed these small businesses to thrive in a pandemic.”
As the coronavirus shut down businesses in early 2020, the Virginia General Assembly voted to ban skill games, rather than regulate and tax them. However, they first gave them a one-year reprieve, and Virginia regulated and taxed them.
That unofficial audition proved lucrative, as Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment, which operates nearly 6,000 machines in Virginia, reported. As a result, operators had hoped the reprieve might become permanent. The governor’s office, though, had long maintained that Northam would support the scheduled ban.
Skills games shut out as VA expands gambling
So, what are electronic skill games? They come in many forms with various types of gameplay.
They had operated in a sort of gray area of the law, between legal games of skill and illegal games of chance. Operators of the machines say their games rely on a player’s skill, which makes them legal. However, some lawmakers and other critics say the amount of needed skill and its impact on the game results are often negligible.
However, as some proponents have fairly argued, the state isn’t shying away from all-out gambling. After all, earlier this year, the Virginia sports betting market launched and has since become one of the most robust in the country. Additionally, four Virginia cities are preparing for new casino-resorts, and Richmond could join them.
Additionally, the Virgina Lottery has expanded with new games and even online sales. Live horse racing is back, and Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums are expanding their historical horse racing footprint in the commonwealth.
So, why is there no support for electronic skill games? That’s something Sadler, who competed in all levels of NASCAR from 1992-2019, wants to know. He said the 41 skill games in his small businesses account for $750,000 in annual net revenues.
As he stated in the press release announcing his lawsuit:
“Whether you are for or against the legalization of gambling in Virginia, both the legislature and executive branch have spoken, legalizing the multi-billion dollar industries of sports betting, horse racing, slot machines and casino gambling. But inexplicably, Virginia has determined that skill games, games that have been legal in the Commonwealth for decades, are now somehow ‘undesirable,’ and should be made illegal. This action is unfair, and quite frankly, unconstitutional.”
Northam, though, said legislators have already decided the matter.