A Greensville County Circuit Court judge declined to dismiss NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler’s lawsuit over Virginia’s recent skill games ban. In a hearing Tuesday, the court denied a demurrer from the office of the attorney general and ordered an expedited discovery process so that a hearing on an emergency injunction can be held in early December.
“We are grateful the Court was able to see through the Attorney General’s latest and last-ditch attempt to avoid a trial in this case,” said Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin), attorney for Sadler and Sadler Brothers Oil Company. “Mr. Sadler’s lawsuit seeks to protect his constitutional rights and the rights of hundreds of Virginia’s small and family-owned businesses. We’re looking forward to December 6, when we hope the injustice and inequity of the skill games ban will be seen by the Court for what it is.”
In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly outlawed skill games. However, Governor Ralph Northam and the legislature amended the ban to allow the state to tax the games to provide revenue for the COVID Relief fund, with the ban postponed until July 1, 2021. In the wake of that ban, industry lobbyists have begun proposing alternatives, allegations of illegal skill games have begun popping up, and some legislators are pushing for legalizing the machines. Multiple lawsuits have been filed across Virginia against the bans, including two lawsuits represented by Delegate Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth.)
Heretick’s lawsuits allege that the ban is discriminatory against minorities, and in one of those cases, a judge denied a request for an emergency injunction to allow skill games to operate.
The Sadler lawsuit uses a different strategy, arguing that Virginia’s statute is unenforceable and violates free speech rights. The ban includes an exception for certain skill games offered at family entertainment centers, with limits on maximum value and types of prizes.
“That’s unconstitutional. That’s government saying one action is legal for one party so long as they say what the government wants them to say, but it’s illegal for a truck stop or a convenience because they’re not considered to be catering to families and children as a family entertainment center,” Stanley told The Virginia Star. “See, it’s not like a total ban on skill games. Skill games are allowed as long as you’re a family entertainment center advertising — and advertising is free speech — to families with children.”
The lawsuit’s other argument is focused on due process.
“The law is so poorly written, how can it be enforced,” Stanley said. “What is something that is legal or not legal when it comes to a skill game?”
Stanley and Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), who is also representing Sadler, said in a Monday press release that “Attorney General Herring’s office has engaged in a continuous pattern of delay and avoidance, and has previously declined to provide information and documents to plaintiff’s attorneys as required by law.”
“They’re using procedural maneuvering to slow the case down, to avoid, to obfuscate, and it’s just not working for them. It’s a bad strategy, and I think it indicates how they feel about the case,” Stanley said on Tuesday.
“Mr. Sadler’s lawsuit is exceptionally strong on the merits, putting the Attorney General’s office in a near-indefensible position in moving for a dismissal,” McDougle said in the Tuesday press release. “The Court clearly understood this.”