The Polarizing Nature Of Kentucky’s Gray Games

Written By Robert Mattox on April 12, 2022 - Last Updated on May 22, 2023
Kentucky's gray games

Editor’s Note: The following article represents the views of the author.

The battle over the so-called gray games in Kentucky rages on.

Are they legal?

Are they not?

Depends on who you ask.

The Lexington Fraternal Order Of Police (FOP) says yes, but it must be noted that they get significant financial benefits from the companies that own these machines. Is that a problem?

On the other hand, you have the Kentucky Lottery and the horse racing industry, both of which are crying foul, claiming lost revenue. Are they losing revenue to these machines? Depends on who you believe.

It’s dubious that the horse racing industry is crying foul when several tracks across the state offer an array of machines that are little more than slots in disguise.

Does the hypocrisy end there? Of course not, as almost every bar in Kentucky allows patrons to play Keno from the Kentucky Lottery. While the Lottery claims they will lose revenue to the gray games in Kentucky, the benefit to the retailer is being overlooked.

Often these games are placed in small, mom and pop type places in small towns. Why is that significant? Because many of these places operate on a razor-thin profit margin. And a much larger share of the proceeds from the machines go to the retailer as opposed to lottery proceeds.

It’s estimated that 40% of proceeds generated by the gray machines go to the business. Compare that to the 5% of lottery sales that retailers get and it’s easy to see why these games are popping up all over the state.

Where do Kentucky’s gray games stand?

Kentucky House Bill 608 would outright ban the popular machines. As of now, the gray games bill seems to be up in the air. The lines are blurred between support and opposition.

Considering the proliferation of these machines in recent months, I have started to notice them in many places, including a couple in my favorite bar/grills in Lexington. If this bill went through and these machines had to be removed, many people will be asking “why?”

What’s the answer? Because they aren’t games of skill, but rather games of chance?

Because they cut into Kentucky Lottery sales?

The state would be hard-pressed to answer why, considering similar machines are in abundance at race tracks, including the Red Mile in Lexington.

The answer would appear to be clear.


No, I’m not referring to the money players could potentially win playing these games.

Specifically, I’m referring to the money and power wielded by the Kentucky Lottery and the state horse racing industry.

To pretend these games are any different than KY’s historical horse racing machines that are legal and abundant at race tracks would be insulting to even the most casual observer. The answer is money.

The horse industry is drawing people to the track, even when racing isn’t in session with the historic machines. This results in revenue for the track even in off-seasons. You can’t blame the industry for wanting to make money, but at what cost?

As far as the lottery is concerned, are their sales going to suffer because small-town businesses utilize these machines? Last I noticed, literally every gas station, bar, restaurant, grocery store, etc., offered the Kentucky lottery. Are a few machines, relatively speaking, going to bankrupt the lottery? Of course not.

As stated before, the bottom line is money. These small businesses desperately need revenue streams to stay afloat. With the spiraling price of gas and the resulting decrease in inside sales at many small-town gas stations, these machines are a much-needed lifeline to keep doors from closing and employees in depressed areas from being on the unemployment line.

Legalize, regulate and tax the gray games, don’t ban

Shame on Kentucky lawmakers for being so openly in the pocket of the horse and lottery industry. Rep Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger recently said:

“The problem isn’t necessarily whether or not they are or are not legal at this point or whether or not having them in every corner is a problem. The problem is that they just showed up, started operating and are asking for permission rather than forgiveness.”

Who cares? If Rep Koenig cannot simply say they are illegal and must be shut down, he invalidates his point.

The bottom line is that if Kentucky’s gray games create a grave risk to the lottery and horse racing industry, then regulate them. Tax them. Oversee where they are being placed, who plays them, and hold retailers responsible for any violations.

Simply saying they are illegal because they are a game of chance rather than a game of skill is insulting to anyone with functioning brain cells.

When someone such as myself can drive 10 minutes and play what amounts to slot machines that feature a short clip of a horse race completely unrelated to the game, then I should be able to go to my neighborhood watering hole and play these so-called “gray games.”

It’s time for Kentucky and its lawmakers to stop catering to the horse racing and lottery industries and allow Kentuckians to act as adults. If I want to gamble on sports, play a skill-based machine, or play online poker, that should be my right as an American.

My guess is, long term the tax revenue brought back to the state would hugely outweigh any perceived or expected negatives.

Photo by Keith Srakocic/Assocated Press
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Robert Mattox

Robert Mattox is a lifelong Kentuckian and avid sports fan. He studied at the University of Kentucky. When not working or writing about the Cincinnati Bengals or fantasy sports, he can be found at a game, a concert, camping or hanging with his lovely wife and kids.

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