March 15, 2023

For Immediate Release

March 14, 2023

Senate advances bill to ban ‘gray’ machines

FRANKFORT — Legislation to ban certain gambling machines, often called gray machines or skill games, in Kentucky is headed to the governor’s desk after advancing off the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, presented the measure, House Bill 594, in the chamber, noting that it reflects input from multiple stakeholder groups such as retail and entertainment companies, the charitable gaming industry and racetracks.

“Kentucky has always done an excellent job at regulating gaming, and we want to continue that effort now by outlawing illegal gaming machines and explicitly saying what is gambling and what is not,” he said.

Sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, the bill was approved with a 29-6 vote. The governor will have the option to sign the bill, veto it or allow the legislation to become law without his signature.

Wilson said the bill explicitly states that machines that operate the way gray machines operate are illegal. It also seeks to separate gambling machines from esport video games and coin-operated redemption games – like those at fairs or arcades – that might provide players with tokens or prizes.

Violators who manage or operate the gambling machines could face a $25,000 fine payable to the local county government.

The original bill included an emergency clause, which would have made the legislation take effect as soon as it became law. However, HB 594 was amended to remove the clause and allow ample time for all to comply, Wilson said.

He added that while the “skill games” moniker is only a red herring in the debate over gambling machines, the bill will nevertheless eliminate any confusion over games of skill and games of chance.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, voted for the bill with “great reluctance.” He said he didn’t agree with gaming but has concerns over a lack of consistency in the legislature on the issue of gambling machines.

Senate Minority Whip David Yates, D-Louisville, also voted for the bill but said he’s been torn about the machines for quite some time. He cited concerns about gambling revenue going to neighboring states or to areas oversees, and said he would prefer regulation over an outright ban.

“If we could make sure they were put in the proper places, there was proper oversight and there was that same taxation that we see in other forms – a level playing field. That’s not before us,” he said. “So now I have the choice of having unregulated gambling machines out there without any kind of regulation, similar to the online bets that you see on your phone and other things that are going to other places. Or, to ban today and come back and work next year or next session on regulation. Therefore, I’m a yes vote.”