Posted on: March 21, 2022, 10:22h.
Last updated on: March 21, 2022, 12:22h.
Virginia skill gaming establishments that haven’t registered with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Authority are at risk of a felony charge, a local district attorney says.
In a letter addressed to known businesses offering the controversial skill gaming machines without ABC approval, Bryan Haskins, state attorney for Pittsylvania County, says owners face steep consequences unless they immediately power down the terminals.
Haskins’ warning comes as many businesses have seemingly arrived at the conclusion that a temporary court injunction halting the legal enforcement of skill machines at authorized ABC venues essentially authorized such terminals everywhere. Not so, says Haskins.
“It is extremely unusual for me to issue a legal opinion on possible criminal or civil sanctions for conduct. However, the temporary injunction entered in Greensville County Circuit Court has led to a considerable amount of confusion.
“It appears that many people believe that any machine, whether a ‘skill game’ or other machine which is also deemed an ‘illegal gambling machine,’ are allowed to operate in Virginia,” the county attorney continued. “This is simply not the case.”
Haskins says anyone knowingly allowing an illegal gambling machine to operate on their premises — whether it be an owner, lessee, tenant, occupant, or another person in control of a place of business — is subject to a Class 6 felony. The charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Virginia lawmakers opted to temporarily legalize the divisive skill gaming machines amid the pandemic.
The decision was twofold. It allowed struggling restaurants, bars, and convenience stores to offset some of their COVID-19 revenue losses. The temporary approval also generated new tax money, which was used to prop up the state’s pandemic relief fund.
However, Virginia’s skill gaming law expired on June 30, 2021. On July 1, all skill gaming machines were deemed illegal. But the Greensville Court ordered an enforcement injunction that runs through May.
But the injunction that prevents law enforcement agencies from seizing skill gaming machines and/or fining business owners applies only to locations that had registered to operate the terminals during the 2020-21 authorization period. Haskins and other local officials say the temporary injunction has resulted in the devices illegally popping up in many additional locations that were never registered with the ABC.
“The Code of Virginia’s civil and criminal penalties regarding illegal gambling remain the law of the Commonwealth,” Haskins added in his letter to known skill gaming locations. “The only exception is those machines which fall within the temporary injunction.”
Former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler has been leading the fight in Virginia to allow skill gaming machines to remain authorized at ABC-registered locations. Sadler’s family owns Sadler Brothers Oil, which owns and operates several convenience stores where skill games were legally permitted until last June.
Sadler and others in support of skill games argue the apparatuses do not constitute gambling, as their outcomes are based on elements of aptitude. The injunction is to last until May 18, which is when Judge Louis Lerner is expected to rule on the constitutional challenge brought by Sadler regarding the state’s decision to outlaw skill machines.
During their yearlong authorization, business owners wishing to incorporate skill games were required to pay the state a flat $1,200 per month per machine/gaming position. The state said the devices generated over $136.3 million in tax money.
Virginia’s gaming industry is amid its largest expansion ever. Online sports betting began in the commonwealth last year, and four land-based commercial casinos are in development.