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Virginia Skill Games Ban Could Start Next Month

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The enjoyment of so-called "skill games" at gas stations, retail outlets and convenience stores in Virginia faces a potential abrupt end following an October 13 ruling from Virginia's state Supreme Court. Despite thousands of these games currently operating in retail establishments throughout Richmond and the state, their future is uncertain, with enforcement actions looming as early as next month.

Skill Games Don’t Require Skill

Virginia's highest court made a pivotal decision this month by overturning a nearly two-year-old injunction that had barred local commonwealth's attorneys from enforcing a statewide prohibition on what essentially function as slot machines. These games require players to press a button twice to initiate play. With the removal of the injunction, the legal status and continuity of these skill games are now in question, opening the door for immediate enforcement.

Related: Pennsylvania Skills Games Debate Pits Casinos against Lawmakers

A three-judge panel from the Supreme Court asserted that the state holds full authority to authorize, regulate, or ban various forms of gambling. This ruling categorizes "skill games" as illegal gambling in the Virginia code, and individuals facilitating or permitting these machines on retail premises could face criminal charges.

The General Assembly, perceiving these skill games as competition for newly authorized casinos, had previously voted to ban them effective July 1, 2021. However, retired Circuit Court Judge Louis Lerner had halted enforcement by accepting the argument that the ban violated the First Amendment's right to free speech.

The state's appeal of Judge Lerner's temporary injunction was filed in mid-September. The recent Supreme Court panel deemed that Judge Lerner had abused his discretion in imposing the injunction, finding no merit in the constitutional argument.

A Problem of Constitutional Proportions

Attorney General Jason Miyares' office, which sought the Supreme Court review, welcomed the decision affirming the constitutionality of the skill games ban. The justices clarified that the state's aim is not to restrict the visuals or messages of the games but to address the "promise (and the ultimate execution) of a payout if the game ends in a particular fashion."

A lawsuit challenging the ban is scheduled for a hearing on December 18 in Greensville County Circuit Court. Pace-O-Matic, a major distributor of the machines, is currently reviewing the decision and determining if it will appeal. At the same time, Virginia Senator Bill Stanley calls the ban unconstitutional.

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