Salem establishments with skill games are facing possible civil and criminal charges after a law went into effect outlawing games such as slot machines. The law went into effect in Salem this week on Jan. 1.
The legality of skill games had been questioned in the state since 2020 when the Virginia General Assembly enacted laws declaring skill games illegal gambling devices. An injunction was entered after a lawsuit was filed in Emporia Circuit Court.
A pause had been in effect until a three-judge opinion by Virginia’s Supreme Court ended it.
In Salem, a number of convenience stores, small restaurants and bars and fraternal organizations such as Salem Moose Lodge 2573 have the machines.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Bowers said this week he had a list of 17 establishments known to have skill games.
“We’ve given notice,” he said. “Now the law is eligible to be enforced. Obviously that depends on manpower. This is not a surprise to anybody. It is a question of regulation. This is deemed to be gambling. We will enforce the law. The police department will determine, based on manpower and probably complaints as well.”
I had complaint last week from a family member whose father was spending $300 a day and that money is just gone,” he added.
“There is no exemption, whether it is a charitable organization or what,” he said.
Operators could face a $25,000 civil penalty for each machine. And then there is the possibility of criminal charges for illegally possessing gambling devices, which carries a fine of up to $2,500, up to a year in jail or both.
People who play skill games could also be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.
Bowers and Police Chief Mike Crawley issued a press release Dec. 18 regarding enforcement of skill games.
During this time, a lawsuit was filed in Emporia Circuit Court challenging the skill games ban and the court entered an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ban until a trial could be held. Because of this injunction, many jurisdictions allowed the games to continue.
According to the press release, the Salem Police Department in cooperation with the will resume enforcing illegal gambling code sections related to “Skill Games” beginning Jan. 1.