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Skill games could result in $500 fine; harsher penalties possible for operators in Virginia

Crystal Graham
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Augusta County will resume the enforcement of illegal skill games beginning Jan. 1, and even if you are found just playing the games, you could be subject to penalties. Operators and owners face even bigger risks for criminal and civil penalties with potential jail time and fines of $25,000 or more.

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly enacted laws declaring skill games to be illegal gambling devices. In 2022, the General Assembly amended the laws to make possessing, operating or playing skill games a criminal offense and provided both civil and criminal penalties for anyone operating the devices.

A lawsuit filed in Emporia Circuit Court challenged the ban and led to an injunction. During this time, most localities including Augusta County, allowed the gambling devices to continue to operate. However, on Oct. 13, the Supreme Court of Virginia vacated the lower court’s decision and lifted the injunction.

In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office and the Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney will resume enforcement of the gambling code sections related to skill games as defined in Va. Code §§ 18.2-325(6) and 18.2-334.6 beginning on Jan. 1.

A  skill game is 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; or cash equivalents whether the payoff is made automatically from the device or manually.

A skill game includes:

  • a device that contains a meter or measurement device that records the number of free games or portions of games that are rewarded
  • 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.

A skill game does not include any amusement device, as defined in § 18.2-334.6.

Penalties, fees and jail time

Any person operating a skill game device or devices may be subject to a civil proceeding seeking:

  • a civil penalty in the amount of $25,000 per gambling device
  • an immediate injunction prohibiting operation of the gambling devices
  • seizure the gambling devices
  • costs associated with investigating and bringing the lawsuit, including attorney fees

Any person possessing gambling devices and operating the devices for the advancement of unlawful gambling activity:

  • may be subject to criminal charges under Virginia Code §18.2- 331.
  • The punishment for violating this statute is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which may result in confinement in jail for up to 12 months or a fine up to $2,500, or both.

Any person who is an operator of an illegal gambling enterprise, activity or operation may face criminal charges under Virginia Code §18.2-328.

The punishment for violating this statute is a Class 6 felony which may result in:

  • a term of imprisonment for up to five years, or confinement in jail for up to 12 months
  • a fine up to $2,500

Any operator who engages in an illegal gambling operation which has been or remains in substantially continuous operation for a period in excess of 30 days or has gross revenue of $2,000 or more in any single day shall be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned between a minimum of one year and a maximum of 10 years.

Playing these skill games could result in criminal charges of illegal gambling under Virginia Code §18.2-326. The punishment for violating this statute is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which may result in a fine up to $500.

Related story

Skill games era comes to an end; localities throughout Virginia to resume enforcement

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.