Changes could be on the horizon for Virginia casinos as pending legislation could overturn a ban on electronic skill games.
It’s been more than a year since Sen. Bill Stanley filed a lawsuit with former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler to lift the state’s ban. Virginia’s ban, which went into effect in July of 2021, paved the way for online sports betting and construction of up to five casinos in the state.
Two Virginia cities are currently fighting for the chance for residents to vote on casino plans. But any sort of casino plans are on hold, pending Stanley’s lawsuit in the Emporia circuit court.
Here’s a look at the latest on the ban.
Electronic skill games decision puts casino talks in Petersburg, Richmond on hold
Petersburg and Richmond are currently in a battle to see which residents will have a chance to vote on casino plans first. HB 1373, which would have given Petersburg the green light and blocked a second Richmond vote, died after a Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee vote earlier this month.
So, what does this have to do with Stanley’s lawsuit?
House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that there’s “absolutely an option” the state budget could be adjusted in order to resuscitate the Petersburg plans. But that’s all on the backburner until Stanley’s case runs its course.
In an interview with the Times-Dispatch, Knight said until there’s a result on the electronic skill game lawsuit, “the default position right now is to put everything on hold – no referendum for Petersburg and no referendum for Richmond.”
According to Knight, casinos view electronic skill games as a danger to their financial stability.
One Virginia lawmaker doubts his bill to lift the ban will pass in 2023
Because of the prolonged debate over electronic skill games, House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore doubts his bill will pass. HB 2295 would legalize the skill games until July 2024 at the earliest. It would restore the previous regulations on the industry that Virginia set during the pandemic.
Kilgore told ABC 8 News in Virginia that his bill was dead. He added that he doubts it comes back during the legislative and budgeting process, too.
“I think there is support, but the lawsuit going through the court system makes some people have concern about legislation while a suit is going,” he said.
What are electronic skill games and why are they banned in Virginia?
They’re often referred to as gray machines because of the fine line the games walk.
They look and pay out winnings like a typical slot machine, but many argue that skill is involved. Its not just luck, like a typical slot machine.
You can typically find electronic skill games at places like gas stations or truck stops.
These machines were not regulated and taxed. Instead of doing so, the Virginia General Assembly voted to ban them back in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. But first, the assembly granted these machines a one-year reprieve, almost as a test run.
During the reprieve, the games thrived. Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment operated close to 6,000 machines in the state. During the first month of the reprieve, the company generated more than $6.8 million. Most of that money went toward aiding the pandemic relief.
How a former NASCAR driver got involved in the lawsuit
Sadler was one of the many business owners struggling during the pandemic. He owns the Sadler Travel Plaza in Emporia and a variety of other retail stories in the area.
Sadler’s travel plaza featured a number of electronic skill games. He relied on them during the pandemic to generate revenue, but Virginia’s ban put a stop to it.
Others voiced their displeasure with the ban as well. The Asian American Business Owners Association filed a complained with attorney general Mark Herring, saying the ban unfairly targets minorities.
Stanley, Sadler’s lawsuit claims General Assembly’s ban ‘was wrong’
So why didn’t Virginia continue to legalize the industry? After all, it helped generate money at a time where business across the country suffered. Regardless, Gov. Ralph Northam followed through with his original plan of banning the games.
“What we did in the General Assembly was wrong,” Stanley said in a statement back in 2021. “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.”