The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill to ban unregulated gambling machines, known as gray machines, that have been spreading throughout the state in recent years. House Bill 594, which received a 29-6 vote, was heavily lobbied over the past two years, with supporters and opponents of the legalization of unregulated gambling machines collectively spending more than $300,000 in January alone lobbying for their options.
The machines, which are found in stores, bars, clubs, and gas stations around the state, are referred to as gray machines or skill games depending on the side taken around House Bill 594. Supporters of a ban claimed that the machines turned convenience stores into “mini-casinos” that skirted the law by their design, which is slightly different from slot machines. They also argued that the rapidly rising number of slot-like machines would lead to unprecedented gambling expansion in the state.
Opponents of the ban argued that the devices should be legally treated as games of skill rather than games of chance. They claimed that the ban would harm multiple small businesses that offer the games to customers. The issue has confused Kentucky lawmakers since last year when a bill to ban the gambling machines passed the House and Senate. However, lawmakers haven’t reached an agreement until this year’s session to settle the issue.
House Bill 594 was finally signed into law by Governor Andy Beshear on March 16, 2023. However, the reason for the debate may be the fact that lawmakers voted in 2021 to legalize similar slot-like historical horse racing machines of the horse racing industry, which financially supported the campaign to pass this bill. Even some anti-gambling lawmakers believe it is hypocritical to ban gray games on these grounds. Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, briefly commented: “I sure wish the passion for stopping these machines had been here two years ago.”
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