Supporters of skill games say their fight continues despite Virginia Supreme Court ruling

Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 6:48 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Lunchtime at Don-Ho’s Restaurant and Lounge is more about the specials than skill games, but owner Donnie Sutliff says the machines have made a difference for his business, and for many others.

“Especially during COVID it helped them survive,” Sutliff told WDBJ7.

“The patrons that come in, some of them like the karaoke. Some of them like to shoot pool. And some of them like to play the Queen machines,” Sutliff said in an interview. “So you know it draws them in, which in turn makes it profitable for me with food and beverage and everything else.”

Don-Ho’s has had three machines for four or five years, but soon the skill games could be on their way out. Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court reinstated a ban on the devices.

The Office of Attorney General Jason Miyares is recommending that Commonwealth’s Attorneys delay enforcement until mid-November, but business owners could face legal action if they don’t comply with the order by then.

In a written statement, Director of Communications Victoria LaCivita said the Attorney General’s Office is pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the skill games law.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia has regulated gambling for centuries,” LaCivita wrote, “and the skill games law is an ordinary exercise of the General Assembly’s authority to protect the public from dangerous gambling devices.”

Sen. Bill Stanley represents former NASCAR driver and truck stop owner Hermie Sadler in his lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on skill games.

“This is just a bump in the road,” Stanley said.

We spoke with Stanley and Sadler from Richmond, where they were preparing for the December trial.

“They vacated the injunction, but they didn’t decide the case, so we still have our case moving forward,” Stanley told WDBJ7. “We’re exceptionally confident of our abilities to prove that this law is unconstitutional.”

“I’m going to comply with the law,” Sadler said. “Whatever we’re told to do by my Commonwealth’s Attorney, what the law is, we’re going to comply, but we’re not going to stop fighting. We believe we’re right. We believe we’ve been right all along.”

While supporters of skill games are focused on the December case, they are also looking toward January and the next session of the General Assembly.

With major turnover coming there, Stanley is hopeful state lawmakers will be more receptive to skill games when they convene early next year.