Risk Update

Risky Games — Lawyer Senator’s “Skill Game” Conflicts Concerns Called a Miss

Virginia senator who does legal work for skill game industry will help write skill game bill” —

  • “A state senator whose law firm has helped the skill game industry fight Virginia’s ban on the slots-like gambling machines is among the handful of senators picked to write legislation behind closed doors that could determine whether the industry remains profitable or ceases to exist in the state.”
  • “Many members of the Virginia General Assembly are lawyers, and it’s not uncommon for them to vote on legislation that could conceivably impact a client.”
  • “Glancing associations aren’t usually enough to trigger Virginia’s conflict of interest laws, which are meant to prevent elected officials from taking public actions that benefit their private interests.”
  • “But the professional connection Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, has to Georgia-based skill game company Pace-O-Matic is unusually direct, touching on his work as a private attorney, his interest in car racing and the political punditry he offers in podcast form. Pace-O-Matic has lobbied heavily for the bill Stanley will now help finalize in the last week of the session.”
  • “In an interview Thursday, Stanley said the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council determined his ties to Pace-O-Matic don’t amount to a legal conflict.”
  • “‘They found that there was no conflict because I don’t own Pace-O-Matic,’ Stanley said. ‘I don’t own one of these skill games. And I don’t own a convenience store that has a skill game in it.'”
  • “Stanley and his firm worked with Pace-O-Matic on a lawsuit seeking to overturn the previous ban passed by his General Assembly colleagues, a legal challenge that bought skill game companies nearly two years of revenue with no taxation and regulation before the ban was reinstated last year.”
  • “Pace-O-Matic also sponsors a racing team partnership between Stanley and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, who has hosted skill games at his Southside Virginia truck stop and served as a plaintiff in the lawsuit trying to keep them legal. The company also sponsors the ‘Leaning Right and Turning Left’ podcast Stanley hosts with Sadler. Fliers promoting that podcast are laid out on the reception desk outside Stanley’s General Assembly Building office and include the phrase ‘Powered by Pace-O-Matic.'”
  • “Asked if he remains retained by Pace-O-Matic and Sadler today, Stanley said, ‘Of course.'”
  • “Getting the bill passed is critical to Pace-O-Matic’s continued business in Virginia. Its failure would mean the company would have to pack up thousands of skill machines that are currently deactivated due to their illegal status. Its passage would allow the machines to be turned back on and start making money again, but the bill’s specifics could determine exactly how profitable they could be.”
  • “The law also says a conflict doesn’t exist if a legislator’s interest in a matter considered by the General Assembly isn’t ‘substantially different’ from that of “the general public” or a broader ‘class or group’ of businesses that could potentially be impacted. In other words, if Stanley only works with one of several skill game companies operating in Virginia, that could be enough to clear him under the “substantially different” rule.”
  • “Though the skill game legalization bill affects multiple companies and the public, roughly half the skill machines in Virginia are believed to be Pace-O-Matic machines, according to the limited state data available.”
  • “Stanley said he had previously abstained from gambling votes and opposes gambling generally, but was ‘surprised’ to learn that the Ethics Council found he could act freely on skill game legislation because there was no conflict.”