Virginia Police Encourages Public to Snitch on Illegal Gaming

Posted on: December 8, 2023, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: December 8, 2023, 11:46h.

Police in Virginia are asking for the public’s help in identifying suspected illegal gambling operations.

Virginia police gaming tip line skill gaming
The Virginia State Police says if you see slot-like machines branded as “Queen of Skill,” tip-off law enforcement, as the games are now illegal. Skill gaming cabinets are being removed from local businesses across the commonwealth after the state Supreme Court said they’re illegal gambling apparatuses. (Image: Cardinal News)

Virginia State Police this week launched its Gaming Tip Line, an online form and telephone hotline where the public can tip-off law enforcement regarding suspected illegal gambling.

As the options and opportunities for legal gaming in Virginia expand, Virginia State Police is launching a statewide gaming tip line and online form for the public to report concerns of suspected gaming operations,” a notice from the law enforcement agency read. “Anyone needing to report criminal violations of gaming laws associated with Virginia lottery games, sports betting, casino gaming, fantasy contests, and/or horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering is encouraged to call … or report the unlawful activity.”

Virginia State Police recently established its Office on Gaming Enforcement. The unit is supervised by a coordinator who will synchronize the enforcement of gaming laws by federal law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, local law enforcement, and state prosecuting attorneys.

State police added that members of the public suspicious of violations of the state’s charitable gaming regulations should contact the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Skill Gaming Dilemma

The Virginia State Police Gaming Tip Line comes less than two months after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that so-called “skill games” are nothing more than cleverly designed slot machines. Commonly branded Queen of Virginia in the commonwealth, the games have been widespread inside bars and restaurants, convenience stores, and other small businesses.

Virginia temporarily legalized the skill games amid the pandemic. Host businesses were required to pay the state a monthly fee of $1,200 per machine. The revenue won by the games was split between the business, gaming manufacturer, and route distributor.

A lawsuit brought against the state by Sadler Brothers Oil, which had 13 gas stations with skill games, challenged Virginia’s temporary allowance of the machines. The litigation alleged that Sadler Brothers’ First Amendment rights were being violated by the state legalizing and then criminalizing a game which the company contended violated no state law.

A circuit county judge in December 2021 ruled that the case had merit and issued an injunction that prohibited law enforcement from seizing skill games that were authorized during the COVID permittance until the case was settled.

The Sadler lawsuit was being dragged out because the company’s attorney, Bill Stanley, is a Republican state senator. Virginia law allows lawsuits involving members of the state General Assembly to be delayed until the legislative session concludes to avoid conflicting interests.

The Virginia Supreme Court took the matter into its own hands by agreeing to review the issue immediately at the request of the state attorney general’s office. The high court ruled that the lower court judge abused her discretion in issuing the injunction.

Respondents are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their free speech claim,” Virginia Supreme Court Justices Stephen McCullough, Teresa Chafin, and Wesley Rusell Jr. wrote in the majority. “Given the significance of that conclusion in this case, Respondents are not entitled to an injunction.”

Greenville County Judge Louis Lerner subsequently dismissed the Sadler lawsuit against the state.

Machines Powered Down

Queen of Skill games continue to occupy real estate inside hundreds of businesses across Virginia, though many have been turned off. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares instructed state law enforcement in October following the state Supreme Court ruling to delay their seizing of skill gaming machines until Nov. 15 to give businesses adequate time to comply with the ruling.

It’s been more than three weeks since police were supposed to be confiscating skill games upon detection. Law enforcement certainly has a heavy task ahead, as the state police Gaming Tip Line has already received more than 100 calls about skill games continuing to operate.

Local business owners who offered the gaming devices say the state Supreme Court decision will cost them heavily. Some state lawmakers have called on Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to hold off enforcement.

The governor countered by saying the court has the final legal authority, but he’d be willing to consider skill gaming legislation, should it reach his desk.

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