Firm clients Pace-O-Matic and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler won a big victory in court yesterday thanks in part to the hard work of Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys and staff, including Jason Hicks, Ian Dickinson, Jennifer Collins, Amanda Norris Ames, Dan Knopsnyder and Karen Parks.  The Greensville County Circuit Court granted a temporary state-wide injunction banning the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Attorney General, the ABC, and the Governor of Virginia from enforcing a recently enacted ban on “skill games.”    

Skill games are a type of video game in which players can win prizes if they are successful at solving a puzzle or skillfully playing a video game.  Skill games are popular at truck stops, convenience stores and bars and restaurants in Virginia, but are sometimes criticized because they look like slot machines and gambling – even though regulators and courts have concluded that the games involve skill and are not games of chance.  The Commonwealth of Virginia recently passed a law that banned “skill games” from operating at truck stops and convenience stores, but granted a special exception for “family entertainment centers.”  When enforcing the law, the Commonwealth prevented stores from operating video-style skill games, but allowed mechanical, carnival-style skill games (like crane games or coin pushers) to continue to operate throughout Virginia.

The First Amendment and Due Process challenge to the Skill Game Ban was based on the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 786 (2001) that video games are protected speech under the First Amendment.  The team argued that the Commonwealth cannot ban some skill games but not others, based on how the games look (rather than how they operate) and cannot prevent truck stops from operating skill games if similar games are allowed at “family entertainment centers.”

Former NASCAR driver and Fox Sports personality Hermie Sadler, who owns truck stops on I-95 and I-85 in Southside Virginia, was the named plaintiff in the case, but the Court’s ruling has state-wide effect.  Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys were assisted by Virginia Senator Bill Stanley, Virginia Senator Ryan McDougle, and Rodney Smolla, a prominent First Amendment scholar and Dean and Professor of Law at Delaware School of Law of Widener University. 

After hearing all of the evidence and seeing pictures and videos of the games, the Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs.  The Court found that the skill games were sufficiently expressive to be entitled to free speech protection and agreed that the law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and Due Process clauses.  The Court entered a temporary injunction banning the Commonwealth of Virginia from enforcing the Skill Game Ban until a trial on the merits in May.  Skill games, which had been unplugged since the July 1 law went into effect, were turned back on at truck stops and convenience stores in Virginia within hours of the Court’s ruling.