Following recent passages and reconsiderations in the House of Representatives, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill Tuesday to ban unregulated gambling machines, or so-called gray machines, with cash payouts that have proliferated throughout the state over the last few years. House Bill 594 passed the chamber on a 29-6 vote and Gov. Andy Beshear signed it into law on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Heavily lobbied issue:

The issue of the rising number of unregulated gambling machines in stores, bars, clubs, and gas stations around the country was the subject of debate and, as reported by the Courier-Journal, one of the most heavily lobbied issues over the past two years in the House of Representatives. The supporters and the opponents of the legalization of unregulated gambling machines collectively spent more than $300,000 in January alone lobbying for their options.

Proliferated ”mini-casinos”:

These slot-like machines are referred to as gray machines or skill games depending on the side taken around House Bill 594 (pdf) that cleared the Senate to ban gambling terminals. Supporters of a ban claimed that the proliferated machines turned convenience stores into ”mini-casinos” skirting the law by their design which is slightly different from slot machines. They also argued that the rapidly rising number of slot-like machines would lead to unprecedented gambling expansion in the state.

Hurting small businesses:

The fact that these devices require players to pull the lever to have all the symbols lined up for a prospective winning combination is the reason why the opponents of the ban advocated that these should be legally treated as games of skill rather than games of chance. They argue that the ban will harm multiple small businesses that offer the games to customers.

Confusing lawmakers:

The issue has confused Kentucky lawmakers since last year when a bill to ban these gambling machines passed the House and Senate. However, lawmakers haven’t reached an agreement for months and waited until this year’s session to settle the issue. Earlier this month, the bill came to the House floor for passage to be suddenly tabled, and then finally returned to clear the House on a 63-34 vote.

The reason for debate:

House Bill 594 was passed in the Senate and was finally signed into law Thursday to end the long-lasting debate. However, the reason for the debate may be the fact that lawmakers voted in 2021 to legalize similar, slots-like historical horse racing machines of the horse racing industry which financially supported the campaign to pass this bill.

Even some anti-gambling lawmakers believe it is hypocritical to ban gray games on these grounds. Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, briefly commented: “I sure wish the passion for stopping these machines had been here two years ago.”