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Virginia Supreme Court Restores Electronic Skill Games Ban Enforcement

Written By Derek Helling on October 18, 2023
Virginia Supreme Court Edifice In Richmond, VA with Virginia skill games

Businesses in Virginia offering electronic skill games to customers are once again in danger. At the same time, the legality of the gaming terminals in the state is far from settled.

The Virginia Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s injunction barring enforcement of the state’s ban on skill games while a lawsuit challenging that law is in progress. The first hearings in that action are mere weeks away, potentially signaling some hesitancy on behalf of law enforcement.

Virginia Supreme Court weighs in on skill games ban

On Friday, three justices from the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a lower court in the state had erred when it granted an injunction against enforcement of the state’s ban on skill games. That injunction had been in place for about two years. Virginia Atty. Gen. Jason Miyares requested the review by the court.

In 2020, then-Gov. Ralph Northam finalized a law banning the games in Virginia. Electronic skill games largely resemble slot machines in a casino in their appearance and function. In fact, a poll suggests many players cannot distinguish skill games and slots.

As brick-and-mortar commercial casinos have begun operating in Virginia since then as well, the state sought to protect their businesses with the ban. However, the COVID-19 pandemic started around the same time.

For that reason, Northam directed law enforcement to hold off on taking action on the ban until late 2021 to allow businesses offering skill games the opportunity to capture revenue. At that point, the owner of a truck stop in the state and the games’ distributor, Pace-O-Matic, filed suit against Virginia over the ban.

The trial court issued an injunction barring enforcement at that time. While that injunction is no longer in place, the actual lawsuit is still playing out.

Trial for that matter should begin in December. Until then, it’s understandable if Virginia’s law enforcement agents are hesitant.

Long road ahead for Virginia skill games legality question

It’s important to note that the Supreme Court only weighed in on the matter of the injunction, not the constitutionality of the skill games ban. That matter could end up before the full court at some point.

Whichever side loses at the trial court is likely to appeal. That process could take years. For that reason, the law could change before the court system makes a truly final decision. Some members of the Virginia legislature attempted to add amendments to the existing skill games ban earlier this year, according to a WTVR post.

It’s unclear whether there will be subsequent attempts to change the language of the law to allow skill games on some level in the state. Even if the proponents do revive their push, the level of support in the larger Assembly remains uncertain.

Given the still fluid status in the courts and legislature, law enforcement may still hold off on enforcing the existing ban even though the Supreme Court has given them leave to enforce it for the time being. There’s simply no more guarantee against that action in place for Virginia businesses offering skill games.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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