Published: July 30, 2023

Virginia Court Case to wrestle down the difference between "game-of-skill" and "game-of-chance" and the legal definition of "gambling"

The long-running lawsuit over Virginia’s ban on slots-like gaming machines will be decided in a three-day trial the week before Christmas, according to a new court schedule laid out Friday.

Lawyers for the two sides held a conference call Friday with the retired judge overseeing the case, but officials at the Greensville County Circuit Court said the telephone meeting was not open to the public. After the status conference, online court records for the case were updated to reflect the schedule the parties apparently agreed to Friday morning.

So-called skill machines, which proponents say don’t count as a type of gambling because they have a small element of skill that makes them different from traditional slot machines, have been a perennial sticking point for Virginia policymakers as the state has legalized more types of gambling. The General Assembly voted to ban the machines in 2021, but the industry has mounted a largely successful legal challenge that led retired Judge Louis Lerner to block the state from enforcing the ban through an injunction issued in December 2021.

That injunction was temporary, but the slow progression of the case has given the skill-game industry substantially more time to profit from machines that are now completely unregulated and don’t produce any state or local gaming taxes. Skill-game companies have made substantial political donations in Virginia to both Republicans and Democrats.

Supporters of skill games say they give small business owners a chance to benefit from the state’s looser approach to gambling instead of allowing big casinos to dominate the industry. The legal challenge — brought by Southside Virginia truck stop owner Hermie Sadler with assistance from Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, and attorneys working with skill-game company Queen of Virginia —argues the ban violates free speech by singling out a particular type of video game based on the machines’ mostly aesthetic resemblance to slots.

Lawyers from the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares argue the ban falls well within the state’s power to regulate gambling because, unlike other video games, skill machines offer cash payouts to winners. Critics of skill machines have also cast doubt on the industry’s claims that exceptionally skilled players can always win money, because the machines’ profitability relies on players putting more cash into the machines than they get out.

The trial is scheduled for Dec. 18, Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.

The lawsuit was filed on June 21, 2021

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