‘Gray machines’ ban receives final passage in Kentucky Senate

By: - March 14, 2023 5:51 pm

Kentucky Capitol (Getty Images)

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would ban so-called “gray machines” in Kentucky received final passage Tuesday in the GOP-controlled Kentucky Senate and heads to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk. 

House Bill 594, sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, saw much less resistance among Republicans than when it was approved by the House last week, passing the upper chamber by a vote of 29-6. 

Such machines are slot-style devices common in many bars and gas stations across the state that derive their moniker from their murky legal status that opponents characterize as illegal gaming. Proponents of such machines like to refer to them as “skill games” instead, saying such a ban would let the horse racing industry monopolize gambling in the state.

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, advocated for the bill on the Senate floor, mentioning that various groups from retailers to the “charitable gaming industry” to the University of Kentucky were consulted on the language. 

“Yes, the racetracks have seen and contributed to this language. They don’t like all of it, but they’re not opposing the bill,” Wilson said. “And no, it’s not a Churchill Downs bill.” 

Wilson referenced attacks that proponents of these gray machines have made asserting that the legislation is backed by Kentucky’s premier horse track and that it would hurt small businesses that host these machines. 

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, voted for the legislation but said the body was being “wildly inconsistent” given that the legislature had approved a bill to allow historical horse racing machines, which Westerfield called “slots,” in 2021. 

“I sure wish the passion for stopping these machines had been here two years ago. Because it’s the exact opposite scenario: instead of wanting to help an industry we’re trying to stop an industry,” Westerfield said. 

Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, said there’s “no doubt that gaming is here” in the state and was voting for the bill with the hope that lawmakers could revisit the issue to potentially regulate such machines.

“I wasn’t for an outright ban if they could be properly regulated,” Yates said. “That’s not before us.”

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.