RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Those who enjoy testing their skills at those big electronic betting machines in local convenience stores are out of luck… for now.
The Supreme Court of Virginia has revived a long-anticipated ban on skill games. Legislators originally outlawed the machines back in 2020, but the ban was delayed by then-Governor Ralph Northam, who highlighted how skill games in gas stations and convenience stores could help raise relief money amid the early COVID-19 pandemic.
A temporary injunction further blocked the ban — until now — but skill games’ ability to make money remains a key consideration in an ongoing legal battle against the state.
To some small business owners and advocates like former NASCAR driver and current truck stop owner Hermie Sadler, it’s about more than games.
“It’s about the free market system,” Sadler said.
Sadler took legal action against the state a while back.
“There’s been a, going on, a three year fight that we have undertaken — me and my legal team — really on behalf of small businesses across the Commonwealth.”
Sadler’s legal battle has been ongoing for years, but with court dates still ahead, he told 8News that the abrupt ban caught him and his team off guard. He worries the sudden ban unexpectedly strips local businesses of a major source of revenue — with no time to figure out revised business plans.
“It’s really, really a tough blow,” Sadler said. “But we’re going to continue to fight.”
Those in favor of outlawing the machines see this ban as long-awaited relief. They said the slot-like betting games spurred concern over unregulated gaming, with its potential to draw in crime and promote dangerous gambling practices. Sadler argued that these games are skill-based — not all luck. He said in previous court sessions, it was proven that these games are different.
“If you had a Wheel of Fortune machine or a “Blazing Seven” machine, you put your money in, pull the lever, and you hope,” Sadler said. “You hope it’s your turn to win and the machine is going to hit. When you play these games that we have — the legal, legitimate skill games — you put your money in and you hit the button and you interact with the game.”
Sadler added that businesses and individuals who illegally operate their machines are the real problem. He said that law-abiding, tax-paying local businesses appropriately manage their machines and optimize their benefits for the community. He and his team are prepared to keep pushing to be able to continue to do so.
“We are undaunted by this,” Sadler said. “We still feel confident that the Constitution matters. A level playing field matters and, you know, people’s rights matter. These small businesses that we’re talking about are the backbone of this economy in the Commonwealth of Virginia and it’s worth fighting for.”
He said keeping the machines isn’t just about help small businesses, he explained that to local business owners like him — and gamers across the Commonwealth — it’s about freedom.
“My constitutional rights are not for sale,” Sadler said. “I think a lot of other people, if they were paying attention, would probably feel the same way.”
The Office of the Attorney General confirmed this ban is now in effect and prosecutors can enforce it. When the ban’s restoration was first announced, 8News staff members reached out to Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’s office.
“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the skill games law,” Spokesperson Victoria LaCivita, said in a statement. “The Commonwealth of Virginia has regulated gambling for centuries, and the skill games law is an ordinary exercise of the General Assembly’s authority to protect the public from dangerous gambling devices. The law is now in effect, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys are free to enforce it.”
Sadler reiterated his message to the community that this change does not end his team’s fight, they will be in court this week and the final hearing is in December.
“I just think people should have the freedom to go make their own decisions on where they spend their money,” Sadler said.