The Supreme Court of Virginia intends to reinstate a statewide ban on skill games that would overrule a lower court’s plan to hear a lawsuit in December on why the games should be permitted.
The games have been an ongoing topic in a state where Virginia sports betting has been legal and regulated since 2021.
More than 9,000 skill game machines operate throughout Virginia, some in bars, convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants. They are like casino slot machines, but skill games provide a cash reward based on the player’s skill. Casino slot machines payout cash on the chance the machine hits the right combination on an internal random number generator or RNG.
A ban on skill games, announced by the Virginia General Assembly and former Gov. Ralph Northam (D), went into effect briefly in July 2021.
Former NASCAR Driver Backs Skill Games
Former NASCAR driver and Virginia small business owner Hermie Sadler said the ban on skill games was unconstitutional, and that he planned to fight it. Sadler operates truck stops and convenience stores that profit from offering customers skill game machines to play; they’re another gaming option in addition to online Virginia sportsbook apps.
Since then, the games have functioned with no regulatory oversight under a court injunction preventing the state from enforcing a ban. Sadler’s lawsuit against the ban is scheduled to be heard in December.
In the meantime, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares, and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority filed a petition asking the Supreme Court of Virginia to review the injunction granted by the Circuit Court of Greensville County.
Sadler’s lawsuit states the ban on skill games violates the free speech clause of the Virginia Constitution.
“Although at times it is difficult to determine where a particular activity falls on the speech/conduct continuum, no such difficulty is present when the activity being regulated is gambling. We long have viewed gambling as conduct that may be heavily regulated and even banned by the Commonwealth as an exercise of its police powers,” the Supreme Court said in an order from Justices Stephen McCullough, Teresa Chafin and Wesley Russell Jr.
Supreme Court Rules To Lift Injunction
The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled on Friday to lift the injunction issued by the Greensville County court.
“We grant the Commonwealth’s petition for review and vacate the injunction,” the court said in an order released Friday.
By lifting the injunction, the Supreme Court’s ruling puts the state ban back in effect, but it’s unclear when the ban could be enforced. Business owners continue to make attempts to install new skill games at their retail locations in the Commonwealth. In February, two applications that would have brought skill games to the small town of Louisa — about 30 miles east of Charlottesville — were voted down during a joint meeting between the town’s planning commission and council. Skill games have also been the target of crime in some areas.
In January, six 7-Eleven stores in Fairfax County were targeted by thieves stealing skill games over a four-week period. Surveillance cameras show thieves casually carrying the machines out of stores with ease and dumping them after gaining access to the cash inside. Follow BetVirginia.com for more industry coverage and any developments toward making Virginia online casinos legal as sports wagering is.