Judge rejects venue change in case challenging Virginia’s skill game ban

Virginia News

An out of order sign on a electronic skill game in Virginia. (Photo: 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A circuit court judge on Monday rejected the state’s effort to move a case challenging Virginia’s ban on electronic skill games from Emporia to Richmond.

A lawsuit seeking to block the ban, which went into effect in July, was filed in Greenville County Circuit Court in June on behalf of Hermie Sadler, a truck stop owner and former NASCAR driver.

The attorneys representing Sadler, Republican state Sens. Bill Stanley (Franklin County) and Ryan McDougle (Hanover County), accused Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring of trying to delay the case from going to court.

“This has always been a fight for the little guy, the small businessperson,” Stanley said Monday outside the courtroom following the judge’s ruling. “And quite frankly, this government doesn’t like you because you’re exactly that: an independent, free-thinking small businessperson.”

Stanley noted Herring’s move to file a demurrer — a pleading that objects a lawsuit’s argument as irrelevant or invalid — and a motion to delay the discovery proceedings in the case.

“So, what they’ve done since we filed this lawsuit is they’ve attempted to delay. They’ve not filed answers, they’ve filed demurrers,” Stanley said. “They won’t schedule hearings when I ask for them. When I schedule a hearing without them, they move it so I can’t be there. This is the largest law firm in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as I argued today, and they were the ones that were delaying.”

Sadler, the owner of Sadler Travel Plaza in Emporia, alleges in the suit that the state’s ban unconstitutionally takes away a major revenue source from his stores while Virginia has opened itself up for legal gambling. While the Virginia General Assembly voted to ban skill games, lawmakers approved legislation to make way for up to five casinos and mobile sports betting.

“Senator Stanley clearly believes that this law he and his colleagues in the General Assembly passed is bad policy, but his remedy should be to convince his colleagues to change the law,” Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement to 8News.

When the lawsuit was filed, Sadler said his stores have relied on the revenue from skill games for 20 years but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am thankful that we are now one step closer to getting this case to trial to protect my business and other small businesses from government overreach,” Sadler said in a statement after the judge’s ruling. “The last few months have been challenging for small business operators and this unlawful action by Virginia to ban skill games in local convenience stores like mine have galvanized all store owners as a group to now fight for what is right.”

The suit from Sadler was not the only legal effort challenging Virginia’s ban. Several small business owners filed a separate lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the ban from taking effect, which a judge denied, and groups have protested about the ban in Richmond alongside state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond).

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the status of Sadler’s injunction request. The court has not denied the request as it has not yet heard the petition.

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