In a case of much ado about something, Virginia lawmakers are saying nothing.
As the legal battle for skill game machines remains stop and go, Virginia General Assembly officials remain silent about the topic’s ensuing validity in the state. Legislators won’t say if the games are, or are not, included within ongoing special session discussion about Virginia’s budget.
Skill games guessing in Virginia
Legislators aren’t quite ready to reveal what the future holds for Virginia gambling and skill games. When asked about the issue, House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, told the Virginia Mercury,
“Let’s keep ’em guessing.”
Some Virginia taxpayers, however, are less interested in playing a guessing game and more focused on what this could mean for their livelihood.
For one resident and business owner, Virginia’s recent skill game ban is especially personal. Former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler is suing the state to overturn its July 2021 ban of these games. One of the businesses he owns, the Travel Plaza in Emporia, Va., features eight such machines in it.
Sadler told the Cardinal News that he rents the space to those who run the machines for a percentage of winnings. Sadler’s family runs the truck stop, two convenience stores and a restaurant. In all, they have roughly 41 total machines under their care.
David vs. Goliath
Sadler sees the skill games fight as sort of a David and Goliath situation. In this scenario, the big casinos come in and forcing out the so-called little guys.
His lawyer, state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, got a scheduled May 18 hearing postponed until Nov. 2. That means a court injunction won by Sadler late last year, delaying a July 2021 ban on skill game machines, will remain in place for now.
Sadler said on social media that the delay will ultimately help proponents better prepare for what they’re fighting against. This will be especially true if lawmakers end up legislating the games through the budget special sessions.
To legalize or not to legalize
As Sadler reasons, proponents of skill game machines maintain that the games allow the so-called little guys to have a slice of the online gaming industry’s pie. Skill game machines may look like slot machines, proponents argue. But, because they require a small amount of skill to win – as opposed to relying on the luck of a spin – they aren’t technically gambling devices.
Supporters also say that proponents of the ban are trying to drive more dollars to the Virginia casino industry. Meanwhile, these critics argue that saying the games require skill is nothing more than a loophole to make illegal machines appear legal.
Temporary ban pause causes confusion
This temporary halt on the ban only includes skills games that were fully legal before the July 2021 ban, however. As a result, plenty of confusion has ensued about exactly what is legal during the injunction.
Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt told the Virginia Mercury that “it’s created chaos.” As of now, there are no regulatory agencies in charge of these machines. That means, Jarratt said, when machine issues arise, there’s no one to call.
If lawmakers working on the budget do include a provision for skill games, the General Assembly would still need to give its OK before the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Until then, it remains anyone’s guess as to how skill games will fare in Virginia going forward.