Virginia Skill Gaming Lawsuit Delayed Until Spring 2023, Games Continue Operating

A lingering lawsuit in Virginia challenging the state’s decision last year to outlaw so-called “skill gaming” machines has been postponed until the Virginia General Assembly concludes its 2023 legislative session.

Virginia skill gaming machines Sadler Brothers Oil
Virginia skill gaming machines Sadler Brothers Oil
A woman plays a Queen of Virginia skill gaming machine in 2019. A judge in Virginia has delayed a lawsuit challenging the state’s prohibition of the gaming machines until after the state’s 2023 legislative session wraps up in February or March. (Image: WDBJ)

Greensville County Circuit Court Judge Louis Lerner this week agreed to postpone further legal deliberations regarding the lawsuit brought against the state by Hermie Sadler, a former NASCAR driver whose family business, Sadler Brothers Oil, owns and operates 13 gas/diesel stations in the commonwealth.

Among Sadler’s legal defense team is attorney Bill Stanley, who is additionally a Virginia state senator who represents Franklin County as a Republican. Virginia law allows practicing attorneys who are additionally state lawmakers to have their cases delayed until the state’s annual legislative session has finished.

Being an odd-numbered year, the Virginia General Assembly’s 2023 session is to commence on the second Wednesday in January (Jan. 11)  and run for 30 days. Feb. 15 is currently the planned adjournment date, but the legislature can extend the session by a maximum of 30 days should unfinished legislative matters remain. That would lengthen the session until March 17.

Legal Skill Gaming Now Illegal

Virginia amid the pandemic temporarily authorized the controversial skill gaming devices, which closely resemble slot machines typically found inside casinos. Proponents of the gaming apparatuses say they do not constitute gambling, as their skill component is more indicative of a player’s outcome than chance.

Unlike a traditional slot machine, which automatically tells a player whether their spin won or lost, a skill machine typically requires that the player identify a winning payline.

Pace-O-Matic, a Georgia-based gaming manufacturer that is a leading provider of skill games across the state that is behind the popular title “Queen of Virginia,” says its products have provided critical revenue for bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and other businesses during and after the pandemic. But Virginia’s temporary allowance of skill gaming machines concluded on June 30, 2021.

That led to Sadler bringing a legal case against the state. His attorneys say allowing and then outlawing skill games violate First Amendment protections. Lerner has sided with the plaintiffs in the skill gaming lawsuit so far.

The judge in December 2021 issued an injunction preventing law enforcement from cracking down on businesses that have continued to offer the same skill games that were legally permitted during the state’s provisional legalization. Though a bar cannot legally bring new skill games into their establishment, Lerner’s injunction legally prohibits police and other legal authorities from seizing the skill gaming machines that were formerly recognized as legal gaming.

Judge Supports Transparency

Lerner explained that the earliest Sadler’s skill gaming argument will be again considered will be April or May 2023. The judge took issue with the General Assembly recently including language into its latest budget that reinforced the illegality of skill gaming and that the state should not expect any additional tax revenue from the machines.

During the state’s interim allowance of skill gaming, host businesses were required to pay $1,200 per machine per month to the state. In exchange, the host business, manufacturer, and machine distributor retained 100% of the terminal’s profits.

Lerner said on Monday that such paramount issues affecting small business owners should be dealt with in a more transparent manner.

“Government at any level should not be doing business in the dark,” Lerner said. “But once again, I’m not going to peek into that closet.”

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