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Former NASCAR driver files lawsuit against Virginia’s slated skill games ban

Skill games in a Richmond corner store. The games have popped up in gas stations, convenience...
Skill games in a Richmond corner store. The games have popped up in gas stations, convenience stores and bars around the state. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 1:08 PM EDT
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GREENSVILLE COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A former NASCAR driver and Virginia business owner has filed a lawsuit against the commonwealth in hopes that the Virginia Circuit Court will rule a ban against skill games as unconstitutional.

Hermie Sadler, a former NASCAR driver from Emporia, Virginia, filed a suit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia ABC, according to a release from Sadler’s attorney. The suit was filed in Greensville County.

Senate Bill 971, which would ban skill games at any businesses other than family entertainment centers, is set to go into effect on July 1. According to the release, the suit argues the bill is unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. It also states the bill will adversely affect small businesses such as convenience stores, truck stops, restaurants and bars.

Sadler states the exception for family entertainment centers would restrict him from offering the games at his truck stop and other businesses. He argues, this creates an “impermissible” content-based restriction on the video games allowed in the state. The suit states the legislation will discriminate against retail locations that do not market to families with children.

The suit argues the ban would be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, violating due process or fair treatment under the law.

Over at Styles Bi-Rite Convenience Store in Chesterfield, people come in every day to play electronic skill games, including Bradley Hammond.

“Just about every day... it’s enjoyable. Sure it is. Anyone who wins any kind of money says it’s fun,” he said.

It’s why he and others are disappointed to see the machines shut down in just a matter of days.

“I worked with the legislature on the games of skill. They made it quite clear that after this year, they wanted those to stop in Virginia. I was part of that agreement. I kept my word and the legislature, that is still their intention. There are some like Senator Stanley that want to move on with that, but that’s up to the legislature,” Northam said Monday.

In the lawsuit, Sadler claims banning the machines would be unconstitutional, hurting not just convenience stores but also truck stops and bars.

“The amount of money that we make off of the machines is very beneficial for our locally owned business... they just make too much money to get rid of them,” Stephanie Brazier of Styles Bi-Rite said.

“One thing about it, I guess we’ll get a raise because we won’t be spending any kind of money,” Hammond added, jokingly.

“Whether you are for or against the legalization of gambling in Virginia, both the legislature and executive branch have spoken, legalizing the multi-billion dollar industries of sports betting, horse racing, slot machines and casino gambling,” Sadler said, Monday in a press release. “But inexplicably, Virginia has determined that skill games, games that have been legal in the Commonwealth for decades, are now somehow ‘undesirable,’ and should be made illegal. This action is unfair, and quite frankly, unconstitutional.”

Legislators agreed to ban the games during last year’s General Assembly session, but the governor’s administration proposed taxing them for one year to generate money for COVID-19 relief. After language in a 2021 bill drew confusion, presumably extending skilled gaming until 2022, Northam amended the bill to reiterate the prohibition slated for July 1.

“Small businesses, including convenience stores, truck stops and restaurants/bars, have depended on the revenues generated from these games to survive during the government shut-down of Virginia by Governor Northam as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sadler said. “While a truck stop or a convenience store may not be as fancy as a Hard Rock or Bally’s Casino, they should not be excluded from this marketplace.”

The bill defines a “skill game” as an electronic or computerized machine that requires a form of currency to play or activate a game. The outcome is determined by an element of skill from the player to receive cash, cash equivalents or anything of value.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

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