Racing legend Hermie Sadler was back on the oval last week as he participated in a race on the Southern Modified Auto Racing Tour at Motor Mile Speedway in Pulaski, Virginia.The lifelong Virginian and racing champ said he suited up for the “Stanley Law Group Stands With Small Business 99” race because he wanted to call attention to the plight of Virginia small business owners who had essential revenue streams taken away by “overzealous big government" earlier this year.
Sadler was joined by Virginia State Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County) who is suing the State of Virginia for shutting down the games. The two say the banning of the games is wrong on moral as well as constitutional grounds.
“They disallowed legal skill games in truck stops and convenience stores but they are still legal in Dave and Buster’s and Chucky Cheese,” Stanley said while appearing on ‘The Appalachian Podcast’.
That’s because, Stanley said, legislation which passed earlier this year allows skill games to operate in businesses which advertise as a family entertainment center but other businesses like truck stops, bars, restaurants, and convenience stores are out of luck.
“That is government conforming speech and that’s a violation of the First Amendment,” he said. “Businesses have a right in their advertising to say what they want and say it the way they want it. That’s the First Amendment protection offered to business.”
Stanley said he had a two-pronged approach for battling the unconstitutional legislation.
“We’re going to fight the lawsuit and we’re going to find a legislative fix for it,” he said. “This is a hill I’m willing to die on.”
Sadler, who has operated legal skill games in his truck stops, convenience stores, and restaurants for nearly two decades, said the machines have been important revenue sources for his businesses as they have for thousands of small business owners in Virginia.
“So many small business owners have reached out to me because they are really struggling,” Sadler said. “These people who have one store or one restaurant and make $400 or $500 a month from one machine kept them alive during the pandemic.”
All totaled, regulated skill games contributed more than $130 million to the state in revenue during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2021.
Of that, Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment games which are powered by Pace-O-Matic, provided $74 million to Virginia’s Covid-19 Relief Fund.
“Morally speaking, why would legislators in the Commonwealth of Virginia want to kick skill games out in the middle of a pandemic when labor costs have skyrocketed?” Sadler said.
“At a time when we need this revenue the most, they took it away from us and so it's made it very, very difficult for a lot of people,” he said.
The transcript of the podcast follows:
“The Appalachian Podcast”
Sen. Stanley: We're involved in a lawsuit. We're suing the Governor, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia ABC, and the Attorney General, because in the General Assembly, as everybody probably knows, when you went into your convenience store until July 1, we had these things called skill games.
Virginia legalized gambling, now I'm against gambling, but I'm against unfairness worse.
And so what we were seeing was those skill games were very popular and allowed small businesses to get involved in this new emerging industry of gaming in Virginia.
But the casinos came in and the big guys came in from out of state, and they wanted those skill games out, because basically, they thought it was going to interfere with their casino business, even though casinos probably not going to be building three or four years.
So the General Assembly vowed to that pressure and then made these skill games illegal as of July 1, taking a lot of money away from these small businesses that were open during the pandemic that were surviving because of these skill games.
Virginia made over $130 million just in the last year in revenue that helped with the pandemic. And yet these guys were being treated unfairly. And so we decided to sue Virginia because the law that they passed is unconstitutional.
Now I could get all legalese and talk about the specifics, but basically it's this: They disallowed legal skill games in a truckstop, or convenience store, but they're still legal in, say, Dave and Busters, or Chucky Cheese.
And so then they say, Well, they've carved out an exception, they said Hermie Sadler can't have his skill games, but if you're a family entertainment center and you advertise that way, then you can keep these skill games because maybe you're not getting a cash payout but you get a bunch of tickets that gets you a number two pencil and eraser, for your kid or a teddy bear, whatever it is.
And a skill game is different from a slot machine. Because every time the player plays it, he or she has 100% chance of winning.
In a slot machine, especially these video game slots, those are all based on chance. And quite frankly, they manipulate the odds from some guy sitting in front of a computer some 100 miles away.
And so actually, the easiest way to describe a skill game is that you see those teddy bear claw games? That's a skill game. Because it takes your skill. And I had no skill because I've tried, I put more money in those things trying to get a teddy bear for my young son.
And so that's just an example of what a skill game is.
But they said if you advertise as a family entertainment center, you can keep these skill games. Well, that's that is government conforming speech. And that's a violation of the First Amendment.
And businesses have a right in their advertising to say what they want, say and say the way they want it. That's the first amendment protection offered to business.
Well, so we filed a lawsuit saying that the law is unconstitutional. The Attorney General comes back and says they don't want it to go forward. And they said businesses do not have a First Amendment right to free speech. Can you believe that?
Our own Attorney General said that. We called him out on it. And suddenly he backpedaled said, I withdraw that argument.
But you know, so we're in a battle right now in Emporia in Greensville County.
We had a hearing about a week or a week or two ago. And we beat them in terms of them trying to move the suit, delay the suit, stay discovery.
We were very successful. Now. They're kind of back on their heels and we're fighting this thing because it is the right thing to do, right thing for Hermie, the right thing for small businesses that work so hard, and right through the pandemic.
And we're struggling because of the pandemic. Everybody's staying home. But they were open so that it can provide food and gas to the people. And so you know what, it's the right thing to do. And I'm proud to stand with my friend Hermie Sadler on this. And Hermie just stepped forward and had the courage to say, this isn't right, and we're gonna fight it.
Question: I mean, how would you take a truckstop and label it a family entertainment center, I mean, really? Hermie, you want to answer that?
Hermie Sadler: And I'm glad Senator Stanley took the time and went through the the legal side of it, which is very important to me, too.
But the moral side is what really got under my skin. And over the course of time, you know, we've had these games, let's just say it, my truck stop, we've got a truck stop in Emporia, Virginia.
We've had skill games there for the better part of two decades. Operating them legally. And they've been a tremendous revenue source for us for a long time.
And so I could see it about five years ago, I could, you know, when the casino interest started to send lobbyists to the General Assembly, we started to see these people from Vegas and Chicago, who start putting money into the state and trying to lobby people to prepare for the interests of these casinos.
That's when skill games became a hot button issue at General Assembly. And so, you know, for us to sit there for 20 years, and operate these games and then for the General Assembly to pinpoint us, of all the things they're opening the doors to in the state of Virginia: Casinos, Rosie's expansion, Virginia lottery is going online, online sports betting.
All these things is like they opened the floodgates to gaming in Virginia. But they took the small business owner operator, like myself and many others across the state, that had been there the whole time employing people, investing in our communities, paying real estate taxes, generating revenue, tax revenue, restaurants, the whole thing. They shut us out, because they found a bigger and they think a bigger, better dance partner to come into the state.
And so morally for me, it's just like, forget the legal side. Why morally would legislators in the Commonwealth of Virginia, want to kick us out -- not to mention right in the middle of a pandemic, when those of you that follow issues related to the pandemic and otherwise, labor costs have never been this skyrocketing, because there's nobody wanting to work.
So we're paying not only high higher wages and overtime to people to get them to work extra hours to try to keep our businesses open. There's issues with the supply chain as it relates to food and beverage services for our facilities. So everything has gone sky high. So at a time when we need this revenue the most, they took it away from us and so it's made it very, very difficult for a lot of people.
As I told Senator Stanley, we're a small business, but bigger than some, what really drives me in this case is the, the 10s to 20s. All these people that reached out to me that have one store, or one restaurant, that are really struggling because that $400 or $500 a month revenue off that one machine they had especially in the pandemic, help them operate.
But the government decided those people weren't important and chose to go a different way.
Announcer: It's discrimination as well. You know, and, and I don't care about discrimination if you own a private business.
My belief, you should be able to discriminate against whoever. We discriminate every day.
If you decide to put on a pair of Nikes instead of Adidas, you're discriminating against Adidas. But when it's coming down from the government, I just I have a huge problem.
Hermie: I went over there, and Bill knows, just about every day to the General Assembly when they were in session for the last three years trying to handle it the right way. Trying to talk to the people in power to ask why are we headed this way.
Why are you choosing them over us? The people that were making the decisions -- I'll be honest with you -- there's only a handful of people in the General Assembly that are ram-rodding this whole thing.
It is a small group of people in power. And they wouldn't talk to me.
They wouldn't tell me why. Hermie you're a nice guy and appreciate everything you've done but it's time that you can't do that anymore.
So I need to know why. Why are you choosing them over me? They would not answer questions. We deserve to know. Like, for me, I just bought a truck stop last October, one year ago today, basically we closed on that truck stop in Suffolk.
I paid over $7 million dollars for that location, I signed a 20 year note at the bank to pay them back. So part of my business plan and part of my financial statement had to do with my skill games operating in that restaurant inside the truck stop in Suffolk.
Well, then the General Assembly decides to change the rules. They took away that couple thousand dollars a week of revenue for me, even though I've got a 20 year commitment that I signed at the bank.
It's like a football game. I'm playing a football game and I'm leaving at the end of the first quarter, they come in and change the rules, but before the second quarter starts. So they don't really take time to look at a small business operator and think what kind of commitment does those people have.
I put myself, my family, everything on the line, to try to grow our business to employ people and generate revenue and do all these things.
And they come in and have no regard at all for the obligations that we have and other business operations across the state.
They just change the rules because they think they can. And for me, that's what it's about.
Sen. Stanley: And you know, it really it comes down to this: the government is picking winners and losers. And you can't do that.
That's not American, their job. It's not what a free democracy in a free market system and enterprise is all about. And it flies in the face. And it shows it flies in the face of what's right and just but it demonstrates that government is trying to more and more as government grows, it tries to control what we do, what we say and how we say it or how we do it. And quite frankly, if we don't stand up and fight like Hermie is fighting right now, who's going to do it? No one else has stepped forward.
Hermie: Bill is a perfect example. He just said he isn't in favor of gambling.
Announcer: That means you can respect him. He's willing to put his personal beliefs aside for what's right.
Hermie: I've tried to explain to people because a lot of people come up to me on the street talking about it. And they think the issue is simply skill games. The subject is skill games, but the issue is government overreach.
Because if we sit back and let them do this to us on this issue, what's next? What can they next come down and dictate who can do what and sell what and not have what?
Announcer: You just want to coexist.
Sen. Stanley: Well, and when you cede power and authority to the government, you never get it back? And I think it was Benjamin Franklin said, a man who trades his freedom for security gets neither and deserves not.
Thomas Jefferson said vigilance is the eternal price of liberty. And that's what this fight is all about. And because it's not just for Hermie, it's for every small business, because it's not just about skill games, what are they going to do next?
And Hermie just hit it right on the head. This is government overreach. But they start now and once they see that they can reach this far they're going to reach farther and farther and farther.
Oh, they won't give up. Give them an inch and they will take a mile.
Look, government has an insatiable appetite. And that insatiable appetite is control over you, your wallet, your family, we see it with what's going on our school systems right now, with teaching CRT, critical race theory.
We're seeing it even in the governor's race where Glenn Youngkin is running against Terry McAuliffe.
Terry McAuliffe in a debate said, parents should have no say in what the schools teach their children.
I mean, if that's not government overreach, I don't know what it is. But in taking it back to this level right now, if we don't do this now, if not now, then when, and if we don't do it, then who and so I'm proud to stand with Hermie.
That's why tonight's race is called the "Stanley Law Group Stands With Small Business 99".
We've got a lot of convenience store owners, operators coming out here who have suffered with this skill game ban, we're going to treat them right, and we're going to show them a great race.
And that's why they're coming out to see Hermie because Hermie is just like them.
He is them. And I just think it's going to be a wonderful time.
But it sends a strong message. And that message needs to be sent.
Announcer: And we're here to help you promote that message. We want to continue to promote that message, whether it be from you, or local farmers or local restaurant owners. That's why this has been a good day. This has been a good podcast, this has been something that has been needed. And we really hope everybody's enjoyed us.
I know we're kind of pressed for time we got to get out of here. But I have just one more question for you do before we get out of here and you make it quick.
Hermie, you said you haven't driven for two or three years, I'm wondering what it was that it decided to make you jump back in the car when he hits you up?
Hermie: I went and visited Senator Stanley at an event he was having up in Stuart, Virginia. We had a conversation that night.
I’m a lifelong Virgnian and I've represented Virginia tourism in my racing career, and the Virginia lottery, I never thought the Commonwealth of Virginia would do something like this to us and other small business operators.
So I was always hopeful that they would not let that happen. But once the law was passed then we decided mutually to have this conversation.
We had to join forces. So we've joined forces -- him on the legal side and me on the business side to do this.
He said he was going to sponsor this race and we are going to have a lot of small businesses around the area, we want to help Chris create some excitement around this race. And while we're at it, I think I want you to be in the race, I want you to drive a car.
It's part of our overall message and part of our overall what we're trying to accomplish -- which is to stand up for small businesses all across the Commonwealth of Virginia against what we think is unfair and an unconstitutional law.
And we think it's wrong, and we're gonna do as much as we can and let as many people know about it as we possibly can.
Sen. Stanley: This is this is a hill, I'm willing to die on. Well, in everybody listening, and you guys just call your legislators you've already talked to yours.
And let them know because you know, this is going to come up again in January We're going to fight the lawsuit, we're also going to try to fight and find a legislative fix for it.
But you got to, you know, we got to stand up and let our voices be heard. Because otherwise they think their voice is the only voice or the right voice. And they need to understand that, that if they're doing stuff as an elected official that you don't like, you have the power of impeachment, which is called your vote every time they come up for reelection, and they need to know that.
It is government that serves the people not the other way around. But government forgets that and so we need to get that strong voice. I've had enough. I’m an elected official and I've had enough and so when the grassroots get involved, then they listen and that's what we need to have happen especially with this and other issues.
Because the government is being unfair to people and to businesses, and it's got to stop.