In a significant development, the Virginia Supreme Court has overruled a lower circuit court, reinstating the prohibition of skill games in the state. This decision declares illegal the controversial gaming machines that bear similarities to slot machines found inside the regulated casinos of the state.
The Virginia Supreme Court skill games lawsuit came into being after these gaming devices were temporary legalized in the state. The legislative move was put into action to help bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and other small businesses compensate for losses incurred during the pandemic. However, the short-lived legalization expired on June 30, 2021.
Post this expiration, Sadler Brothers Oil filed a lawsuit against the state. Helmed by former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, the company, which hosts skill games at 13 of its gas/diesel stations, contended that the cycle of legalization and subsequent ban violated their First Amendment protections.
Attorney Bill Stanley, a Republican state senator representing the city of Franklin, is representing the Sadler Brothers. In December 2021, Greensville County Judge Louis Lerner agreed that the plaintiff’s lawsuit had merit, issuing a temporary injunction that stopped law enforcement from seizing skill games.
However, in a recent action, the Virginia Supreme Court, reviewing the matter via a state petition, ruled that the lower court had “abused its discretion” in issuing the injunction. It stated that the respondents were unlikely to succeed in claiming the skill games as a form of protected free speech. As such, the injunction was overturned, making the gaming machines illegal once more in the state.
Skill games, often tagged as “Queen of Virginia”, are predominantly manufactured by the Georgia-based company, Pace-O-Matic. In response to the ruling, the company stated that it was reviewing the decision.
While the skill gaming industry argues that the themes of their games fall under the bracket of “expressive content” and thus are protected under the First Amendment, the Virginia Supreme Court disagreed. According to the court, while the games do have “elements of expression”, those were not the primary reasons for law enforcement seizures. Significantly, it pointed out that the statutory scheme does not prohibit such themes but simply the gambling aspect of the games.
With this ruling, skill games are no longer legal within the state, and law enforcement has the authority to seize machines that continue to operate. The case is not scheduled for trial until next month.