After originally banning skill games in 2020, Virginia will begin aggressively enforcing the ban soon.
Each jurisdiction will decide when to begin enforcement against these skills games. For the town of Lynchburg, that date is Jan. 1. Games of skill can be found in gas stations, bars and other businesses across the state. They resemble slot machines found in casinos.
Once the ball drops and a new year is ushered in, any business in Lynchburg housing the machines or players using them will be cited.
Games don’t really take any skills to play
When considering just how much money the Virginia casino market generates for the state, it becomes easy to see why action is being taken against skills games. In October alone, Virginia casinos paid the state more than $9 million in tax dollars. On the other hand, the state receives very little from unregulated skills games.
Lynchburg City Manager Wynter Benda said as much during a recent press conference.
“Actual direct taxing or what have you is very minimal; in fact, it’s almost nothing.”
Backed by a recent ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court, the commonwealth is set to crack down on the machines. Each jurisdiction in Virginia will now decide when it wants to begin enforcing the ban.
Calling them skills games is a misnomer of sorts. They do not take any skills to play. The state defines them in Virginia Code 18.2-325:
“‘Skill game’ means an electronic, computerized or mechanical contrivance, terminal, machine or other device that requires the insertion of a coin, currency, ticket, token or similar object to operate, activate or play a game, the outcome of which is determined by any element of skill of the player and that may deliver or entitle the person playing or operating the device to receive cash or cash equivalents, gift cards, vouchers, billets, tickets, tokens or electronic credits to be exchanged for cash or cash equivalents whether the payoff is made automatically from the device or manually.
“‘Skill game’ includes (i) a device that contains a meter or measurement device that records the number of free games or portions of games that are rewarded and (ii) a device designed or adapted to enable a person using the device to increase the chances of winning free games or portions of games by paying more than the amount that is ordinarily required to play the game.”
Fines are hefty if caught housing or playing skills games
Anyone who operates these machines will be fined a whopping $25,000 per machine in addition to all court fees. They will also be charged with illegally possessing the machine, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine. If someone is found to be operating an illegal gambling operation, that is punishable up to five years in prison with a fine up to $2,500.
According to Lynchburg Commonwealth Attorney Bethany Harrison, players playing these machines after Jan. 1 could be penalized as well.
“For the consumer, someone who is playing the game, that is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine.”
Ban the result of a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision
In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly made skills games illegal. Enforcement of the ban, however, was suspended during COVID-19 relief efforts, allowing businesses to make some money on the machines during the pandemic.
The games were banned again in 2021, but that ban was challenged in court, according to Harrison.
“A lawsuit was filed in the Greensville County Circuit Court challenging the skills game ban. As a result of the lawsuit, the court entered an injunction preventing enforcement of the ban against skills games in December of 2021 pending the outcome of the civil trial.”
With the trial still ongoing and the next court date set for December, the ban was unable to be enforced. Harrison said that changed when the Virginia Supreme Court made its ruling.
“The Virginia Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s ruling and lifted the injunction that prevented enforcement of the ban on skills games.”
That opened the door for jurisdictions like Lynchburg to set a date for the enforcement of these skills games. Other jurisdictions are expected to follow suit.
According to Richmond Police Department Chief Rick Edwards, all law enforcement in the commonwealth has the same goal when enforcing the ban.
“To do it in a way that it’s not going to be a surprise. No one should be surprised if they get cited. There will be plenty of time for education and to ensure they are just in compliance with the new law.”
According to NBC12, Richmond has not yet set a date for the start of its enforcement. In Hanover County, police said it will begin Jan. 1 like in Lynchburg. Hopewell Police said it will start on Dec. 31. Chesterfield Police and Henrico Police have not yet set a date.