Nov 16, 2023 - News

Virginia's gas station gambling machines are officially illegal

Illustration of a slot machine merged with a gas station sign.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

So-called skill games have a new name in Virginia: illegal gambling.

Driving the news: As of Wednesday, law enforcement agencies have the all-clear from Attorney General Jason Miyares to begin enforcing a state ban on the video gaming terminals that proliferated in gas stations, convenience stores and bars.

Catch up fast: State lawmakers voted to ban the machines in 2021, but enforcement was delayed after a truck stop owner in Southside Virginia sued, alleging free speech violations.

  • Among other things, the lawsuit argued the ban discriminated based on the games' content because it exempts offerings aimed at families and children, like claw machines.

The latest: A judge in Greensville County dismissed the challenge Monday, per the AP.

Between the lines: Skill games, as the industry called them, first started popping up in Virginia in 2018.

  • The devices attempted to sidestep the state's gambling laws by incorporating small elements of skill, for instance by requiring players to tap a button to line up winning patterns.

Yes, but: The Supreme Court of Virginia didn't buy it, writing in their recent ruling that the games clearly fall under the state's authority to regulate gambling.

What they're saying: Businesses that operate games say the ban threatens their livelihood.

  • "I'm probably going to cry, because the last time they turned them off, it affected my business terribly," Susan Matthews, owner of Sportsman Restaurant & Lounge in Henrico, told WTVR.

Threat level: Owners who continue operating the devices face a misdemeanor charge and fines of up to $25,000.

  • Customers caught playing the games also face a misdemeanor and up to $500 fines.

Of note: Police departments around the state say they want to give people ample opportunity to comply with the law and won't be rushing out to make arrests.

  • Chesterfield and Richmond authorities say they're observing an unspecified grace period, per NBC12.
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