Quick Takes

Another lawsuit challenges Kentucky’s ban on ‘skill-based’ gambling machines

By: - May 9, 2023 6:31 pm

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, supported the ban on “gray machines” during a March 14 Senate debate. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

A manufacturer and operators of so-called “skill-based” gaming machines have filed a lawsuit, the second of its kind, challenging the constitutionality of a new state ban on such machines that’s set to go into effect this summer. 

Prominent Technologies, a Pennsylvania-based company that manufactures and operates “skill-based” machines often found in gas stations and convenience stores, along with other plaintiffs in Kentucky are also asking a Jefferson Circuit Court judge to temporarily block Attorney General Daniel Cameron from enforcing House Bill 594, the state ban. 

Critics often call these gaming devices that pay cash prizes “gray” machines in reference to their murky legal status. 

The complaint filed Tuesday states HB 594 is unconstitutional on several grounds including that the law violates the game machine’s owner’s right to free speech, the right to due process and the right against confiscation of property without just compensation. 

“The skill-based game ban set out in the Amendments eviscerates centuries of common law jurisprudence enshrined in the Kentucky Revised Statutes providing that skill-based games are not included within the scope of illegal gaming,” the complaint reads in part. 

A spokesperson for Cameron did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Pace-O-Matic, a large manufacturer of “skill-based” machines, and other plaintiffs who operate the machines filed a separate lawsuit in March challenging the state ban on similar grounds in Franklin Circuit Court.

Bob Heleringer, one of the attorneys representing the industry and a former Republican state representative from Louisville, said delays in that court case provided more urgency to file their lawsuit.

“If the venue isn’t determined rather quickly over there in Frankfort, it may be ours that gets the attention and gets the injunction,” Heleringer said. 

The Pace-O-Matic lawsuit in recent weeks has gotten entangled with another new state law that gives Cameron and lawsuit participants in some cases the right to randomly change the venue of the lawsuit and move the case to a new circuit court. Cameron has made such a request, and a Franklin Circuit Court judge is asking the Kentucky Supreme Court to weigh in on constitutionality of the change of venue law. 

The other attorney representing Prominent Technologies and other plaintiffs in the new lawsuit is House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville. 

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported earlier this year Nemes, who represents Prominent Technologies, said he received an advisory opinion from the state’s legislative ethics body that stated it was ethical to vote and advocate on HB 594 as it was moving through the legislature. 

That informal opinion, according to the newspaper, said it was okay to do so because HB 594 didn’t target the specific client he represented. 

Proponents and critics of “skill-based” machines have heavily lobbied the state legislature in recent years, with the issue creating a divide among Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate.

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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.