RICHMOND, Va. -- Hermie Sadler, a former NASCAR driver and commentator from Emporia, is suing the Commonwealth over a bill that would ban games of skill in Virginia truck stops and convenience stores on July 1.
Sadler's family business owns several of these properties throughout Southside Virginia.
He and his lawyer, State Sen. William Stanley (R - Martinsville), filed the lawsuit in Greenville County to protect what he called “the rights of the people of Virginia and small business owners."
The lawsuit specifically named Virginia's Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia ABC.
On Monday, he appeared outside the State Capitol flanked by other owners and operators of similar businesses to stand up for rights they feel lawmakers have trampled.
“In spite of the fact that we’re opening our doors to gambling in the Commonwealth, we feel, as small business operators, we’re being unfairly targeted,” Sadler said. “They’re doing away with skill games for us to pave the way for casinos coming in. To me, I don’t think that’s fair."
The lawsuit seeks to not only overturn the law, which was passed in April 2020, but to grant an injunction allowing the operation of skill games while the main lawsuit is heard.
Sadler said his businesses have operated these games for the better part of the last 20 years, but have now been outlawed by casino interests moving into Virginia.
“Skill games” are defined as currency-operated video games in which the player solves puzzles or plays video games to maximize his or her score or credits. Players use strategy or knowledge to potentially win free replays or other prizes based on how skillfully they play the game.
Stanley, a vocal opponent of gambling in his role as a state senator, nevertheless filed the lawsuit on Sadler’s behalf because he believes basic freedoms are being compromised.
“Virginia has made the decision to legalize casino gambling, sports betting, slot machines, and horse racing,” Stanley said. “Now they have chosen to pick on the small businessman because they’ve decided that skill games are unseemly. If you’re going to legalize gambling in the Commonwealth, then you have to legalize all gambling.”
A study by the gaming industry estimates that games of skill raise over $130 million in revenue each year for Virginia businesses.
According to Sadler, over the past 12 months, operators were taxed by the state $1,200 per month, per machine to raise money for a COVID relief fund.
His machines alone generated nearly $600,000 in revenue for the state during that time, he said.
“That was a win-win situation,” Sadler said.
He also believes skill games are being shut down at the behest of casino operators who aren’t interested in competition.
“Nobody will come out and say it, but they’re clearing the bases with us to bring the casino people in. And that’s not right," he said.
Northam responded to the lawsuit on Monday.
“The legislature made it quite clear they wanted games of skill to stop in Virginia. I was part of that agreement and I’ve kept my word on that. That’s up to the legislature and I don’t anticipate (games of skill) moving forward after this year," Northam said.
The state has 21 days to respond to the lawsuit. That will take the process past the July 1 deadline, meaning regardless of any future outcome, skill games will be shut down for a period of time in the state.
Sadler just hopes it’s not permanent.
“Why are the casino operators more important than the ones who have been here the whole time running these businesses, employing people, paying taxes?” Sadler asked. “This is more about protecting the rights of small business owners in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”