Sen. Bill Stanley and the law firm of The Stanley Law Group, PLLC, located in Moneta, filed a lawsuit against Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) on behalf of Virginia NASCAR legend Hermie Sadler to declare the ban on skill games in Virginia as unconstitutional and in violation of the rights of small business owners throughout the commonwealth.
In his capacity as a practicing Virginia attorney, Stanley filed a two-count Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive relief on behalf of Sadler in the Circuit Court for the County of Greensville.
Sadler, now retired as a full time NASCAR driver and TV analyst for FOX Sports, spends his days working in the family business, which is the ownership and operation of truck stops, convenience stores and restaurants all across Southside Virginia.
For at least the last 20 years, the Sadlers have offered skill games in some of their locations, especially the truck stops. The games serve as a draw for truck drivers to stop and do business at their locations. While at the location the drivers also spend money in the restaurants and food marts, all creating revenue for both the local area and the state. The revenue from skill games has allowed the Sadlers to invest in their locations’ infrastructure and was a major factor in enabling them to keep people on the payroll during the COVID 19 pandemic.
All of that is scheduled to change on July 1, as Gov. Ralph Northam and his administration have ordered that all skill games at these locations shall be now, for the first time in the history of Virginia, banned. That action, along with the fact that Virginia is expending its involvement in gaming, including the addition of four casinos and the legalization of the multi-billion dollar sports betting industry in the state prompted Sadler to take this action to protect the rights of his business, and all Virginia based small business operators that are going to be impacted by this action by Northam and the Virginia legislature.
“This is a sad day for me, being a lifelong Virginian,” stated Sadler. “But I have no choice but to try and protect my business and my family as well as all of those that work with us and their families. I am also standing up for all of the ‘Mom and Pop’ operators across the state that perhaps own a family store in a rural or urban area of Virginia that are already struggling now have to deal with this. It’s just not fair.”
A major point of contention, according to Sadler, is the timing. In essence the Northam Administration is choosing to remove these games from Virginia business owners to clear the way for the casinos to come in the state.
“That’s a huge issue,” Sadler stated. “I have no issue with casinos coming in, but let them come in, make their investments and let the people decide where they want to spend their money. The people should be deciding that, not the government. We should let the free-market system work. But, they are cleaning us out to pave the way for the bright lights and upper-class gambling of the casinos. If the state wants to legalize gambling, it cannot pick and chose winners and losers based upon socio-economic statuses of either the operator of the games, or the player of the games. If Virginia is going to legalize gambling, as it has, then it should allow skill games to be a part of that equation, and not limit who can play based upon their zip code or station in life. That is simply un-American.”
“I also want to thank Sen. Bill Stanley for standing with me on this issue,” Sadler continued, “anyone that knows Bill knows that he has never been an advocate for skill games or gaming in general in his legal or political career, but he understands that this case is not about being for or against gaming in Virginia, this is about fundamental fairness, the protection of small businesses in Virginia to compete in the open market, and protecting the rights of the people of Virginia and our small business owners from egregious, unfair and unconstitutional government overreach.”
In the complaint, Sadler asserts that SB 971, the legislation that banned skill games, is unconstitutional under the Virginia Constitution since (1) the so-called “family entertainment exception” violates free speech rights, and (2) the skill game ban is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and violates the due process guarantee in the Virginia Constitution.
The defendants were sued since they have specifically implemented and are charged with the enforcement of the ban, which goes into effect July 1.
Additionally, Sadler seeks injunctive relief from the Greensville Circuit Court, preventing the law banning skill games in Virginia from being enforced during the pendency of his lawsuit.
“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,” Stanley stated. “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. For if Virginia is going to legalize gambling, then it should allow skill games, and the small businesses that depend on the revenue generated from them, to be legal as well. This is both fundamentally fair, and reflects the policy that Virginia should not exclude someone, or some business from participating in this form of gambling in the free market just because of their zip code, or because they are not some fancy casino, or can’t visit some fancy casino.”
Skill games are typically a type of currency-operated video game in which the player solves puzzles or plays video games to maximize his or her score or credits. There are many different types.
Traditional video arcade games like Pac Man or Galaga, car racing games, puzzle solving or matching games with different game themes, sports-themed games like Golden Tee, skee ball, crane games, pinball machines, and basketball shooting games are all examples of skill games that exist in retail establishments throughout Virginia. Players use strategy, knowledge, physical dexterity and experience to play the game and potentially win free replays or other prizes based on how skillfully they play the game.
Some skill games have the visual aesthetic of traditional arcade video games, some have sporting themes and some have a more adult visual aesthetic reminiscent of a slot machine with spinning reels, matching rows of fruit or video poker themes. Regardless of the visual theme or content of the game, skill games are different from slot machines or other types of games of chance because the outcome of a skill game is based on the skill of the player — and is not based on chance.
“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,” Stanley continued. “In fact, even the state government has benefitted to the tune of $130 million in yearly revenue from taxes generated from the state regulation of these games. They exist in both rural and urban areas, and especially are located in areas where the citizens cannot access a casino or a horse racing track, or even a slot machine betting parlor that are found in other areas of the state. 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 market place.”
Stanley concluded: “This fight is for the small business owner, and the rights of all Virginians to chose how, and where, they want to spend their hard-earned dollars if they choose to gamble now that Virginia has decided to legalize this activity. To limit that right and ability is not only unconstitutional, but also plainly unfair. I am proud and honored to represent my friend Hermie Sadler and his small family-owned business in this fight to do what is both right, just, and fair. I am confident that once this matter is heard by our Court, we will be successful in bringing fundamental fairness back into the gambling industry, and that we will be able to strike down this patently unconstitutional law.”
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