Virginia Supreme Court declines to hear Northam, Herring’s appeal of injunction allowing skill games to operate


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The Supreme Court of Virginia has declined to hear an appeal from state leaders challenging a judge’s injunction that has allowed “skill games” gambling to continue through part of May.

The appeal was filed by Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority late last month.

The temporary injunction was issued in early December in Greensville Circuit Court. It put the state’s skill game ban on hold until a trial in May for a case involving former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, who owns several truck stops that operated skill games.

Skills games, also known as “gray machines” and electronic betting machines, were outlawed on July 1, 2021 in Virginia. The machines appeared in gas stations, bars and other locations around the state, and were regulated and taxed for a year prior to the ban to generate revenue during the coronavirus pandemic. However, they couldn’t gain support in the General Assembly for long-term use.

An initial lawsuit filed by business owners who hoped to keep their games operating was unsuccessful, but Sadler’s gained traction in Greensville. The judge who issued the injunction said the law banning the games was too vague and violated First Amendment rights.

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However, Northam and Herring’s appeal claimed the judge failed to weigh the factors necessary to determine that an injunction was proper. They also argued that skill games didn’t constitute free speech.

The appeal also argued allowing the gambling devices to operate unregulated under the injunction far outweighed the benefit the plaintiff (Sadler) would gain from the injunction. The injunction allows the games to operate with no oversight or dedicated tax stream. Regulation was previously overseen by the Virginia ABC.

Pace-O-Matic, a company that manufactures the games in question, praised the Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision on Monday.

“We are pleased the court upheld the temporary injunction,” said Mike Barley, spokesman for Pace-O-Matic of Virginia. “Skill games are vitally important to struggling restaurant and bar owners because of the added revenue they provide. I am optimistic the court decision in May will go in favor of small businesses and legal skill games. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the legislature to further regulate and tax our industry, so we can support small businesses and provide additional tax revenue to the Commonwealth.”

Pace-O-Matic officials have previously argued that the state’s ban has only encouraged illegal games to operate.

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