Asian-American Business Owners Association tells Virginia Attorney General that skill games ban amounts to discrimination

Skill-Based Games Removed In VA, Amid Discrimination Claim From Asian-Americans

On July 1, skill-based games became illegal in Virginia outside of retail casinos. However, the fight to get them back is far from over. In the latest attempt to return the now-forbidden slots-type games to their spots in convenience stores, bars and gas stations throughout the commonwealth, the Asian-American Business Owners Association (AABOA) filed a discrimination complaint with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

The association didn’t immediately return Online Poker Report‘s request for comment about its widely-reported claim of racial discrimination related to the skill game ban.

On June 26, 2021, AABOA reportedly filed a complaint against the Virginia General Assembly with Attorney General Mark R. Herring. The complaint lists comments two senators made in 2020, when the assembly passed the ban on the games. One senator called a measure to keep the games “the Ali Baba bill” and another called the games themselves “sleazy.”

Virginia originally set out to remove the games in 2020, but allowed them a temporary reprieve due to the pandemic. Then they were scheduled for another extension into summer 2022, but Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed that in March. As a result, the games became illegal on July 1.

Skill game suppliers exit the Virginia market

On Tuesday, the main supplier of the games – Queen of Virginia Skill and Entertainment (QVS), powered by Pace-O-Matic software – told OPR it was pulling its machines out of Virginia.

Pace-O-Matic Public Relations Vice President Michael Barley​ said to OPR:

“Our games are turned off and being removed from the market. QVS and Pace-O-Matic have and will continue to abide by all applicable laws and regulations.”

Games such as those produced by Pace-O-Matic incorporate skill elements to circumvent legal definitions of gambling as involving wagers on “games of chance.” By the same token, they don’t come with the same level of oversight and consumer protection as legal gambling.

In its goodbye letter to Virginians, the company said on its QVS home page that its machines and those like it contributed $130 million in revenue to Virginia during the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

Last-minute legal complaints to save the skill-based games

The AABOA wasn’t the only entity to try to keep the skill-based games in Virginia.

Another complaint that hasn’t yet been addressed came last month from a plaintiff who’s calling the ban on skill games unconstitutional. Hermie Sadler – a former NASCAR driver who now owns truck stops, convenience stores and restaurants with his brother – is seeking an injunction. To do so, he’s suing the commonwealth, Herring, Northam and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority in the Greensville County Circuit Court.

In a third legal action, unrelated business owners attempted to get an injunction to stop Virginia from outlawing the machines. That complaint, filed on June 22 with the Norfolk Circuit Court against the commonwealth, was rejected on July 2.

Plaintiffs Himansu Patel, Melody Weekly, Judith Hendricks, Takis Karangelen, Tommy Posilero and Boyd Melchor also cited “insensitive and racially demeaning remarks” from members of the general assembly among their complaints.

However, the court found that the word “person” as used in the Virginia Human Rights Act doesn’t include government entities like the Commonwealth. The law itself therefore doesn’t apply in the way the plaintiffs claim, according to the ruling.

Virginia’s elected officials aren’t sitting on the sidelines

One of the six plaintiffs’ attorneys was Steve Heretick, a member of the House. Even his assistance wasn’t enough, however. Heretick is on the House Courts of Justice Committee, where he also serves on the Subcommittee on Civil Laws. 

The Sadlers’ lawyer – Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County – tweeted this on July 1, the day the machines became illegal:

“The true story here is that they’re making it illegal because the casino lobby doesn’t want the competition. … They want to sweep them out of our small businesses and determine who gambles and who doesn’t.”

Meanwhile, a former Norfolk Councilman Randy Wright is getting involved, also on behalf of the business owners.

Plus, of course, there are the two senators mentioned in both legal actions. Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, made the Ali Baba comment. Senate Finance Chair Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said the games were “sleazy.”

November will be a big month for VA gambling

After the June 2 court decision, Wright suggested there might be more to come in November.

WAVY’s @BrettHNews tweeted out Wright’s statement:

“We will not give up, we’re exploring our options. Those options will not exclude further legal possibilities. We plan to be a factor in the upcoming election in November. We will conduct a grassroots campaign, second to none. We cannot allow bigotry and discrimination to our Asian Americans. We will fight for their rights and protect against slanderous statements from anybody!”

More officially, Richmond voters will be asked to approve an issue on the ballot about allowing Virginia’s fifth and final retail casino to be built. If voters OK it, One Casino + Resort will be the last casino included in the 2020 expansion of gambling in the state.

Asked by OPR if he knew of any November ballot measures aimed at keeping skill-based games in Virginia, Barley responded simply:

“No.”

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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