Virginia Skill Games Ban Remains: Judge Denies Small-Biz Owners’ Request

Written By Dann Stupp on July 6, 2021 - Last Updated on August 1, 2023
VA skill games

A Hail Mary from owners of now-illegal VA skill games has failed to find the end zone.

This past week, Virginia gambling authorities formally banned the gaming devices as part of a planned July 1 shutdown.

Skill games come in all shapes and forms but resemble slot machines. However, they feature some type of questionable “skill” aspect to the gameplay. That allowed the “gray machines” to operate in a gray area of the law in convenience stores, bars, restaurants, and other small businesses throughout the commonwealth

Before the July 1 deadline imposed by Senate Bill 971, some business owners looked for help in the courts. One judge, though, offered no relief.

No legal relief for VA skill games

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to shut down in early 2020, Virginia lawmakers voted to give skill games a one-year reprieve. In fact, they opted to tax and regulate them – and took in approximately $100 million to combat the coronavirus.

Business owners hoped the unofficial audition would lead to a permanent stay. When it became increasingly clear that it wouldn’t, some VA small-biz owners took action.

Former NASCAR driver and VA truck stop owner Hermie Sadler filed suit after saying the loss of skill machines would substantially hit his bottom line.

Then, the Roanoke-based Asian American Business Owners Association (AABOA) filed a complaint with the office of the Virginia Attorney General.

The AABOA sought an injunction that would allow the businesses to keep the machines. The group maintained that the ban was discriminatory. They also said it was a violation of Virginia human rights law because it unfairly targeted ethnic and religious minorities since they own so many of the businesses.

However, as reported:

“In Norfolk Circuit Court Friday, a judge issued an opinion that declined to provide a temporary injunction allowing the games to stay on. The opinion said the business owners did not prove that they would be ‘irreparably harmed,’ nor that halting the ban would be in the best interest of the public.”

More legal challenges ahead?

The report included a statement from Randy Wright. The former Norfolk councilman has been a public face for the business owners.

In a statement, he didn’t rule out future legal challenges:

“We will not give up, we’re exploring our options. Those options will not exclude further legal possibilities. We plan to be a factor in the upcoming election in November. (The AABOA) will conduct a grassroots campaign, second to none. We cannot allow bigotry and discrimination to our Asian Americans. We will fight for their rights and protect against slanderous statements from anybody!

Businesses now face a $25,000 fine and the forfeiture of in-machine funds if they don’t comply with the ban.

Although small-business owners would usually be sympathetic figures with politicians, Virginia legislators have been rather split on the topic. Part of that is due to the state of legal and regulated gambling in the commonwealth.

With legal VA online sportsbooks now operational, and with the first VA casinos set to open as early as next year, Virginia skill games have become a bit of an outcast. After all, they also face competition from the Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums located throughout Virginia. The historical horse racing (HHR) parlors also offer slot-like gaming devices.

Without more support from key Virginia officials, VA skill games are unlikely to get their shot to compete with those legal options.

Photo by Dreamstime / Pattanaphong Khuankaew
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Dann Stupp

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

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