Is Skilled Game Gambling and Fish Table Games Legal in North Carolina & Virginia?
For a long time, the United States maintained a strong conservative stance on the gambling front. Many forms of gambling be it skill games, chance games and sports betting were prohibited. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2018 which overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) and subsequent gambling legislations paved the way for the liberalization of gambling activities in the country.
The discretion to legalize or maintain the gambling bans was solely left in the hands of individual states. Once individual states were given the power to decide between legalizing or maintaining the gambling bans, a select few quickly embraced gambling activities. A few others however took some time before they eventually embraced gambling activities albeit legalizing gambling in a phased approach.
Others however still maintain the gambling ban. In light of this, we just want to check out the legal status of gambling activities in two states that is, North Carolina and Virginia. Our focus however will be on the legality/illegality of skill based games.
North Carolina Fish Game Gambling
The legislation that guides gambling activities in North Carolina is the North Carolina General Statutes Article 37: Lotteries, Gaming, Bingo and Raffles. North Carolina through its gambling laws states that gambling involves ‘chance games’. There is no mention of ‘skill games’.
Are Fish Table Games Legal in NC?
At times skill games may have been deemed as chance games by the North Carolina gambling authorities owing to the fact that all types of games ranging from casino games, bingo, lotteries, raffles, greyhound racing and horse racing have at times been classified under chance games. Moreover, the North Carolina Supreme court in a case between Gift Surplus LLC and Sandhill Amusements Inc. vs. the State ruled that “any video gaming machine is illegal under North Carolina law even if they require ‘skill or dexterity’ input from the player if chance predominates over skill.
The North Carolina Statutes Article 37 defines gambling as “operating a game of chance or playing at or betting on any game of chance at which money, property, or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not”.
The North Carolina Statures Article 37 goes on to state that many forms of gambling are prohibited in the state. There are a few exceptions however where gambling is legal. These are exposed below.
- Playing fish table games is legal when you do not wager real money or skill dominates the outcome of the game.
- Playing casino games is legal when playing at Indian reservations. However, the reservations must be operated in compliance with the North Carolina Tribal-State Gaming Compact.
- Playing bingo games is legal only when they are sponsored by non-profit and charitable organizations. Only organizations that have been classified as non-profit and charity organizations by the Internal Revenue Service may operate bingo games. There is a win limit of $500 per game when playing bingo.
- Playing raffles is legal only when they are sponsored by non-profit and charitable organizations. However, an organization is only allowed to sponsor two raffles per year. The win limit for raffles is $10,000 in cash or $50,000 in merchandise.
- Playing lotto games is legal only when playing a state lottery whose proceeds are channeled towards educational charity work.
That first bullet point has been an ambiguous issue between fish table owners and some local law enforcement. Some cities like Charlotte are not currently banning fish table games within their city boarders. A short distance away however, the small city of Hickory, NC has made a decision to force out all fish gambling games from local businesses.
Virginia Fish Skill Game Gambling
Virginia just like North Carolina is quite restrictive when it comes to gambling. However, when we juxtaposition the two, Virginia is slightly more liberal. For many years, folks in Virginia enjoyed ‘gray machines’ at convenience stores. There was no explicit law which legalized or prohibited the gray machines. This, therefore, meant playing gray machines was not technically an illegal thing.
In 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam gave assent to a bill which legalized (though temporarily) skill games in the state. This, therefore, meant the gray machines were now legal. However, it was a requirement for all ‘mini casinos’ offering skill games to be taxed. The tax was then channeled to fund struggling businesses as well as the Covid-19 Fund.
When the pandemic was slowing down in July 2021, the Governor chose not to extend it hence rendering skill games illegal once more. Up to this day, many forms of gambling including some fish table games are illegal in the state.
Are Fish Table Games Legal in VA?
There are a few exceptions however which are highlighted below.
- Engaging in horse racing betting, pari-mutuel wagering and off-track betting is legal at licensed satellite facilities
- Playing bingo games is legal only when they are sponsored by non-profit and charitable organizations
- Playing raffles and duck races is legal only when they are sponsored by non-profit and charitable organizations
- Engaging in contests of chance or skill between men, vehicles or animals in private residences is legal.
Fish Table Games in Other US States
There are some states in the USA where the law is pretty clear. Wagering in these states, regardless of being a game of chance or game of skill, are often considered an illegal activity. These states include Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont.
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