Column – Fight for GOP state Senate nod is colored gray

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

You’ve likely noticed video games pop up at your favorite convenience store in recent years, adult players hovered over them for hours at a time.

Those machines might just determine your next state senator. Or at least the Republican nominee on your ballot next fall.

Perhaps never has a single issue so clearly defined a political race as so-called “gray machines” or “skill games,” which could determine whether Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, or former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler wins the Republican nomination in Senate District 17, the newly drawn district covering Isle of Wight and all of Western Tidewater.

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Sadler, whose family has a vested interest, wants the games to stay. Powerful interests who want them outlawed are investing heavily in Brewer. Combined, the two candidates had raised nearly $445,000 as of Dec. 31, according to the latest campaign-finance reports filed by each.

Much more will surely roll in before a spring convention where the nominee will be chosen in lieu of a traditional primary election.

Sadler reported raising $286,084 as of Jan. 31, including $5,000 each from Amuseomatic Inc of Frederick, Maryland, Jimmy Brewer of B&B Amusements in McMinnville, Tennessee, C and L Amusements Inc. of Hopewell, Virginia Novelty of Portsmouth, Petro Shopping Center of Glade Springs and Southern Amusement Corp. of Norfolk, to name just a few of his donors who want gray machines permanently legalized.

Brewer, who had raised $156,477 as of Dec. 31, reported $5,000 from the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, $5,000 from HeadWaters Resort and Casino, $1,000 from Betting on Virginia Jobs, $1,000 from the Sports Betting Alliance and $500 from Caesars Entertainment. Casinos, bingo operators and sports wagering outfits don’t want competition from skill games. 

(Interestingly, a group called Amusement and Music Operations of Virginia is hedging its bet, giving each candidate $10,000.)

House Majority Leader Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, has introduced House Bill 2295, which would re-legalize skill games — previously banned by the General Assembly in 2020 — and capture tax revenues from them. 

They would be regulated by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which would assess a flat monthly tax on the machines until at least 2024 while a joint legislative committee studies the future of electronic gaming in the state. 

Adding to the intrigue is a lawsuit by Sadler, who operates skill games in truck stops, convenience stores and restaurants his family owns across Southside Virginia. A judge’s injunction has kept the machines running at least for now.

Sadler had kept a low political profile over the years before jumping in the Senate District 17 race. The raging controversy over skill games seems to have fueled his political ambitions.

Another Sadler campaign donor, by the way? State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on Sadler’s behalf in Greensville County Circuit Court.


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is