Lawmakers pass bill banning slot-like machines that skirt Kentucky’s gambling laws

The fight over the bill saw record sums spent on lobbying and advertising.
The Kentucky General Assembly passed a full ban on "gray machines" in March 2023.
The Kentucky General Assembly passed a full ban on "gray machines" in March 2023.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 7:44 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Kentucky General Assembly on Tuesday passed a ban on a type of gaming machine that skirts the commonwealth’s gambling laws.

Ordinary gaming machines are driven by chance. You pull a lever or hit a button hoping to get three in a row, and then you either win or lose.

So-called “gray machines” add a step: You pull a lever or hit a button hoping to get two matches, and if you do, then you manually change one yourself to get three in a row.

That small change is what the manufacturer has said makes the game legal in Kentucky, because now it’s a game of skill rather than chance. In Kentucky, games of chance are illegal, but games of skill are allowed.

Kentucky lawmakers, including bill sponsor Rep. Killian Timoney, dubbed them gray machines because they fall into that perceived regulatory dead zone.

The machines came into vogue in 2021 and have since proliferated across the commonwealth. House Bill 594 aims to fix that.

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It’s been a bitter and expensive legislative process, pitting horse racing firms against the game giant Pace-O-Matic. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports the two sides spent record-breaking sums on advertisements in January 2023 alone.

Opponents said the machines help small businesses, like PeeWee’s Place in Crescent Springs. Owner Timothy Reese said of the machines last year: “Anything we can do to bring in customers, bring in excitement, bring in gambling, we love to do.”

Initially filed bills regulated and taxed gray machines. Timoney introduced an outright ban afterward.

“These machines represent the single largest gambling expansion in Kentucky history, yet they are unauthorized, unregulated, and unaccounted for,” Timoney said. “We must restore the proper order, empowering the legislature to lead by drafting the laws that precede the addition of gaming in the Commonwealth.”

Timoney noted the bill represents “hundreds of hours of effort by a number of stakeholders, as well as input from those for and against the proposal. We’ve talked to retailers and other business owners with machines, as well as law enforcement, state regulators, and even the gray machine companies. Ultimately, we made the decision to ban them entirely.”

The Kentucky Senate passed HB 594 Tuesday afternoon by a 29-6 vote. The bill passed out of the Kentucky House last week.

“[T]here is no place for gambling entities that skirt the law in order to flood Kentucky with unregulated casino-style gaming without limit or oversight,” House Speaker David Osborne said.

HB 594 now heads to the desk of Gov. Andy Beshear.

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