RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The Virginia attorney general’s office advised local prosecutors to delay enforcing the state’s ban on slots-like betting machines known as skill games until Nov. 15 to give businesses time to adjust.
Charles H. Slemp, the state’s chief deputy attorney general, sent a letter to the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys two days after the state’s Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s decision and lifted the injunction that blocked enforcement of the statewide ban.
The letter, first reported by Cardinal News, suggested a grace period for businesses that have grown accustomed to the slots-like betting machines.
“Because these games are located in businesses throughout the Commonwealth, the Attorney General recommends that Commonwealth’s Attorneys delay enforcement until November 15, allowing local businesses an adjustment period to comply with the order,” Slemp wrote.
The adjustment period, Slemp added, is meant to help “facilitate an orderly transition and to ensure that all affected parties have adequate time to comply with the law.” His letter indicated that he plans on discussing the ban with local prosecutors.
Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor declined to comment on how her office will proceed with prosecutions following the attorney general’s office’s recommendation for a delay, telling 8News she would like to speak with the county’s police chief first.
The top prosecutors for Richmond, Chesterfield County, Petersburg and Hanover County did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their office’s plans.
Skill games can be found in businesses across Virginia, typically in gas stations and convenience stores, and were described as a lifeline for small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virginia lawmakers approved a ban on the machines in 2020 but, along with then-Gov. Ralph Northam, agreed to delay it until 2021 to allow the tax revenue from the machines to help fund state needs during the pandemic.
A lawsuit challenging the ban, led by truck stop owner and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, was filed in Greensville Circuit Court, where a judge granted an injunction to block the statewide ban.
While that case is ongoing and will be heard in December, the Supreme Court of Virginia overruled the Greensville County judge and vacated the injunction in a decision on Oct. 13.
In its order, the high court found that Sadler’s challenge is unlikely to succeed on its argument that the machines deserve the same free speech protections as video games, ruling that a lower court “abused its discretion” when ruling otherwise.
“It’s disappointing,” Sadler told 8News in a phone interview after the decision came down. “What’s not being talked about is how today’s order impacts the rights of small businesses in Virginia. It’s the main reason I filed [the lawsuit]. It’s tough.”
The electronic betting machines, sometimes called “gray machines” because they function in a gray area of the law, look and pay out winnings like slot machines. The industry and manufacturers of the machines argue skill is involved — hence the name “skill games.”
Supporters of skill games have argued the machines give small businesses much-needed income and would provide millions in tax revenue for the commonwealth if allowed to remain.