Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation banning gambling devices that closely resemble slot machines.
The Kentucky General Assembly passed HB 594 Tuesday after the Senate approved it by a 29-6 vote. The House passed the bill last week by a 64-32 margin.
Gov. Andy Beshear signed the legislation into law Thursday.
The new law bans “gray machines.” These devices are incredibly similar to slot machines but have one key difference.
Gray machines fit “game of skill” definition
A typical slot machine gambler will push a button or pull a lever. Then, the machine will spit out a winning or losing result.
However, gray machines add another step. Most of them require a player to get three of the same symbols in a row. But if a player gets two matches, they can manually change a row to result in a victory.
This tiny difference allows the manufacturer to call it a game of skill. Only unregulated games of chance are illegal in the Commonwealth.
According to a Cincinnati-area Fox affiliate, these machines became popular in Kentucky in 2021. The machines became popular after their introduction, especially since Kentucky lacks casino gaming.
Republican Rep. Killian Timoney was one of the bill’s two sponsors. Timoney coined “gray machines” because they operated in a murky regulatory setting.
Bill was initially aimed at regulation
These machines were usually used by small businesses to attract customers. One business owner told the same Fox affiliate that he would do anything “to bring in customers.”
Initially, the bills filed about these machines were aimed at taxation and regulation. But Timoney pivoted to an outright ban after the bills were filed.
“These machines represent the single largest gambling expansion in Kentucky history,” said Timoney. “Yet, they are unauthorized, unregulated and unaccounted for. We must restore the proper order, empowering the legislature to lead by drafting the laws that precede the addition of gaming in the Commonwealth.”
Move comes as Bluegrass state starts to change its anti-gambling ways
Despite signing the ban into law, Beshear is one of the most pro-gambling governors in Kentucky history. He is vocal about his support for gambling expansion, having supported the addition of casino gaming, online gambling and sports betting to the state.
The ban comes as a KY sports betting bill that would legalize retail and online betting passed the House and is heading to the Senate. It could be on Beshear’s desk by the end of the month.
But historically, Kentucky has been one of the states most staunchly opposed to gambling.
Kentuckians can buy lottery tickets and bet on horse races. That’s about it.
Furthermore, Kentucky was the only state in the country that took legal action against PokerStars. The popular online poker room operated in the U.S. from 2001-2011 during a regulatory grey period for online betting.
The state sued the site in 2010 for $290 million. The suit claimed from 2007-2010, PokerStars was operating illegally, and residents lost a combined $300 million.
After several rulings and a decade of litigation and appeals, PokerStars settled with Kentucky for $300 million.
More recently, the state shut down a brick-and-mortar poker room run by 2003 World Series of Poker main event champion Chris Moneymaker.
Moneymaker opened a poker room in Paducah, a small town of about 25,000 near the Illinois-Kentucky border, last fall. But in February, the state forced him to close his operations.
On the other hand, lawmakers introduced a bill in January that would legalize Kentucky online poker. The state appears to be clearing out the unregulated market to pave the way for regulated gambling expansion.
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