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Skill machine lawsuit against Platania dropped

Several skill machine manufacturers have dismissed a lawsuit against Charlottesville’s commonwealth’s attorney after newly enacted legislation temporarily rendered the complaint moot.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2019 by Queen of Virginia, POM of Virginia and Miele Manufacturing, who sued Joe Platania in his official capacity as the city’s top prosecutor after he announced that the machines violated the gambling section of the Code of Virginia and ordered them to be removed.

The manufacturers had argued that their gaming machines were legal under state law and that Platania’s decision to ban the machines in Charlottesville had hurt their standing within the state and violated their constitutional rights.

Though initially filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court, at one point the lawsuit was moved to federal court because the manufacturers argued that the decision violates their 14th Amendment rights. After the plaintiffs dropped their constitutional violation arguments, the lawsuit was returned to the circuit court, where it languished.

Though the skill machines bear many visual and practical similarities to slot machines, which are illegal in Virginia, the plaintiffs argued the machines are legal because winning is not based entirely on chance. This “skill” factor allows the machines to fit within the narrow state gambling code, they argued.

This issue was seemingly put to rest by SB 971, which added skill games to the definition of illegal gambling, and was passed by the General Assembly this past session.

However, in April, when Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill, he announced that skill games would be allowed to operate within the commonwealth until June 30, 2021, in a taxed and regulated environment. Northam’s announcement was coupled with a promise to veto any future legislation to extend the industry’s life any longer.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the decision was influenced by legislators agreeing to delay a ban on skill games they previously approved in exchange for a new source of tax revenue the state needs to weather the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic

In a Thursday news release, Queen of Virginia wrote that it is pleased the case could be resolved outside of the courtroom and that the company remains committed to “complying with all laws governing skill games, including regulations from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.”

“Skill games help support thousands of small businesses across the commonwealth with much-needed tax revenue,” the release stated. “The majority of the proceeds from the new state tax on skill game terminals will benefit Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund to assist those small businesses and protect people’s housing, as well as sustain nursing homes and other health care providers.”

In a statement also issued Thursday, Platania’s counsel wrote that all parties are pleased the litigation has concluded.

“Through counsel, Mr. Platania stated that he will enforce the new law as written and not offer his personal thoughts on its enactment,” the statement reads. “He will therefore have no further comment on this matter.”


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