Salem Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Bowers and Chief of Police Mike Crawley released a statement this week regarding the enforcement of Skills Games inside the city limits. The statement noted that enforcement of the illegal gambling code sections related to “skill games” will begin on Jan. 1 in Salem.
In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly enacted laws declaring so called “skill games” to be illegal gambling devices. The laws, which were amended by the General Assembly in 2022, made possessing, operating or playing “skill games” a criminal offense and provided both civil and criminal penalties for persons operating such devices.
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 these illegal gambling devices to continue to operate.
On Oct. 13, 2023, the Virginia Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s decision and lifted the injunction preventing enforcement of the relevant code sections.
Considering the Supreme Court’s ruling and based upon the provisions of the Virginia Code that prohibit playing or offering play of “skill games,” the Salem Police Department in cooperation with the Salem Commonwealth’s Attorney will resume enforcement of the illegal gambling code sections related to “skill games” beginning on Jan. 1.
The Virginia Code defines a “skill game” as “an electronic, computerized, or mechanical contrivance, terminal, machine, or other device that requires the insertion of a coin, currency, ticket, token, or similar object to operate, activate, or play a game, the outcome of which is determined by any element of skill of the player and that may deliver or entitle the person playing or operating the device to receive cash or cash equivalents, gift cards, vouchers, billets, tickets, tokens, or electronic credits to be exchanged for cash; or cash equivalents whether the payoff is made automatically from the device or manually. ‘Skill game’ includes (i) a device that contains a meter or measurement device that records the number of free games or portions of games that are rewarded and (ii) a device designed or adapted to enable a person using the device to increase the chances of winning free games or portions of games by paying more than the amount that is ordinarily required to play the game. ‘Skill game’ does not include any amusement device.”
Civil penalties for anyone operating a “skill game” device include a $25,000 penalty per gambling device, an immediate injunction prohibiting operation of the gambling devices, seizure of the gambling devices and costs associated with investigating and bringing a lawsuit, including attorney fees.
Criminal penalties for illegally possessing gambling devices and operating them for the advancement of unlawful gambling activity include a Class 1 misdemeanor, which may result in confinement in jail for up to 12 months and a fine up to 2,500.
Criminal charges for being an operator of an illegal gambling enterprise include a Class 6 felony, which may result in a term of imprisonment for up to five years, confinement in jail for up to 12 months and a fine up to 2,5000.
Criminal charges for illegal gambling include a Class 3 misdemeanor, which may result in a fine up to $500.