NASCAR driver argues Va. skill game ban should be paused during lawsuit

Lawyers for NASCAR driver and business owner Hermie Sadler III will ask a judge to pause a new Virginia law banning skill games, during a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality.

The ban, which took effect July 1, 2021 after being signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, made it illegal for businesses to offer games with some sort of payout to a skilled player. SB 971 exempts family entertainment centers, in which players get a noncash prize.

Sadler owns truck stops in southern Virginia, known as Sadler Travel Plaza: “For decades in Virginia, and until July 1 of this past year, skill games have been very popular with the customers of plaintiffs and other truck stops, convenience stores and restaurants,” according to a motion seeking a temporary injunction in Greensville Circuit Court, where Sadler’s business is located, in the city of Emporia.

The lawsuit claims the skill game ban is an unconstitutional infringement upon free speech and due process. A temporary injunction would put enforcement of the ban on hold while the constitutionality of the ban is challenged.

In the motion, attorneys Bill Stanley and Tony Troy quote lawmakers supporting the ban calling skill games “unseemly,” and “sleazy,” in part because some featured adult images similar to those featured in a casino game.

While many people have never played a video game, “there are also undoubtedly millions of Americans who cannot imagine living a day in which they do not play a video game — indeed who cannot imagine life without them,” according to the suit.

“This court must don its own independent free speech thinking cap, checking its own preferences or experiences as to what is or is not attractive or familiar expression at the courthouse door,” according to Sadler’s lawyers. “Different people naturally turn to different forms of expression for intellectual stimulation, entertainment, distraction, amusement or meaning.”

The motion said the First Amendment doesn’t “play generational favorites, or favorites of any kind.”

“For many Americans, the mental, emotional, and psychological fulfillment, escape, relaxation, or amusement that comes from playing a video skill game may be every bit as important as what might for others come from reading a literary masterpiece (sic) viewing an award-winning film,” according to Sadler’s motion.

“Some may want their Leo Tolstoy or Orson Welles, others their John Madden NFL video game,” they argue.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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