15 E. Franklin St., Richmond, VIrginia

Monday – Friday, 8 a.m – 5 p.m.


Virginia Skill Games & New Gambling Laws

Virginia Skill Games

Playing by the Rules: What to Know About Virginia Skills Games Latest News

Most citizens and business owners have likely seen or heard about the ongoing controversy regarding Virginia skill games, and how they are affected by existing gambling laws. Distinguished from games of chance, skill games have enjoyed some protection against law enforcement’s efforts at removal. 

Those protections are set to change in a big way. Whether you enjoy playing Virginia skill games or are a small business owner seeking guidance on how to avoid potential criminal charges, this guide will discuss the recent changes in Virginia gambling laws.

The Virginia Supreme Court Stops an Injunction Against Enforcement

In October 2023, the Virginia Supreme Court answered a request from Governor Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares, and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to review a previous injunction against enforcement of statutes that banned skill games. An “injunction” is basically a ban that is put in place to prevent action on a law’s enforcement. That injunction is now gone.

This situation goes back to 2020, when the Virginia General Assembly criminalized playing, or operating a business offering “skill games.”

A “skill game” was defined 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; merchandise; or anything of value whether the payoff is made automatically from the device or manually.”

Games at family amusement centers (like Chuck E. Cheese) were granted exceptions. The new laws targeted games of skill targeted toward adults, of a type frequently located in gaming halls and gas stations. Essentially, these skill games were seen as thinly disguised gambling.

For a number of reasons, such as the new law being too vague, that statute had an injunction put in place against its enforcement. That injunction is now no longer in effect.

The Virginia Supreme Court’s October 2023 ruling against the injunction essentially labeled skill games as gambling, and therefore subject to regulation by the government: “We long have viewed gambling as conduct that may be heavily regulated and even banned by the Commonwealth as an exercise of its police powers.”

The Virginia skill games ruling in its entirety is available here. (Click for PDF) 

Can I Be Charged With a Crime If I Run a Small Business With Skill Games?

Yes, you can be charged with a crime if your Virginia small business offers skill games. Although the penalty in Virginia for illegal gambling is a class 3 misdemeanor, the charges for those running an illegal gambling operation are significantly more serious.

A small business owner accused of running an illegal gambling operation in Virginia is charged with a felony. Normally, it is a class 6 felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. However, if gambling revenues are determined by law enforcement to be high enough, that penalty can increase to a prison sentence of between 1 and 10 years in prison. That is the same statutory penalty as a crime as serious as extortion or forgery.

In addition to criminal consequences, a small business owner charged with possessing gambling devices can face serious civil consequences as well. The Commonwealth of Virginia is allowed to seek up to $25,000 in civil penalties for each gambling device. The costs of enforcement can also be charged against the business owner. Those penalties can obviously stack up quickly and result in potentially catastrophic costs to the business.

Potential consequences for running an illegal gambling operation don’t end there. Virginia’s asset forfeiture laws allow the government to seize and request the forfeiture of all “money, gambling devices, office equipment and other personal property used in connection with an illegal gambling enterprise or activity” and so the scope of loss to the business owner can continue to expand far beyond just the money and devices involved in the accused illegal gambling.

Can I Be Charged With a Crime for Playing Skill Games in Virginia?

Yes. Skill games are now considered illegal gambling, according to the definitions found in the Code of Virginia. Fortunately, playing skill games (and therefore participating in “illegal gambling”) is a class 3 misdemeanor and therefore not subject to any jail time. 

On the other hand, what might seem like an innocent recreational activity could still subject you to a fine of up to $500 (by comparison, most Virginia traffic tickets cap out at a $250 penalty) and a stain on your record. No one wants a school or potential employer to see a charge of illegal gambling on their record.

Are These Virginia Skill Games Laws Being Enforced Yet?

The Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling happened in October of 2023. The actual enforcement of the Virginia laws against skill games will depend on the jurisdiction. It is, after all, up to local law enforcement to investigate and enforce situations involving these devices.

Some jurisdictions will begin enforcement before 2024, while others have announced that their enforcement efforts will begin starting in the new year. These delays may be to allow time for businesses to take preventative action ahead of any enforcement.

What Can I Do If I Have Been Charged For Involvement in Skill Games?

Although you can represent yourself, these charges can become quite complicated very quickly, especially for Virginia business owners facing not just a felony gambling charge, but also potential civil penalties and associated asset forfeiture actions on their money, devices, office equipment, and personal property. 

Hiring an attorney experienced in asset forfeiture litigation and Virginia’s gambling laws can potentially help you prepare for and go through a trial on the gambling charges, or handle negotiations with the Commonwealth for a more favorable outcome that takes into consideration the potential criminal and civil consequences of the skill game allegations.

David G. Parker has years of experience in Virginia’s courts, including gambling device and asset forfeiture trial experience. He understands how serious the criminal and financial consequences can be for Virginia business owners. 

Even if you eventually prevail or negotiate down the consequences, having your property and funds tied up for weeks or months in the possession of the government can itself be a serious penalty and cause lasting damages to your business. More prompt resolution of your cases is another reason to consider hiring an attorney to assist you through the entire process.

These types of charges involve an interplay of criminal statutes and civil penalties (including asset forfeiture). There is a lot to consider, and so take the situation seriously if you are accused of violating these new laws.

If you are facing charges related to Virginia skills games or illegal gambling accusations, reach out today to David G. Parker Law for a free consultation and to discuss your options. 


More Posts

Schedule your free consultation now