Driven by gambling legislation, lobbyists spent $24.7 million in Kentucky last year

January 19, 2024 2:19 PM
Photo: By Kittugwiki - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
  • Conor Murphy, Special to CDC Gaming Reports
January 19, 2024 2:19 PM
  • Conor Murphy, Special to CDC Gaming Reports

Dollars from gambling interests spurred a record-breaking $24.7 million spent in 2023 to lobby for legislation in Kentucky. According to data from the Legislative Ethics Commission, spending increased primarily due to legislation aimed at banning “gray machines.” This spike in lobbying expenditure set a new high in the state’s legislative history.

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The Kentucky General Assembly, which convened for only 30 days in 2023, witnessed this unprecedented lobbyist spending, surpassing the previous record of $22.4 million spent in 2022 during a 60-day session.

The primary cause for the increased spending was the introduction of a bill to ban “gray machines” – video-game terminals offering cash payouts found in various venues across the state. These machines, often referred to as “games of skill” by their proponents, became the center of a heated debate, followed by lobbying efforts.

The Kentucky Merchants and Amusement Coalition, opposing the gray machine ban, emerged as the top spender in lobbying, reporting expenditures of $483,324. On the other side of the debate, Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling, advocating for the ban, reported the third-highest spending at $348,763. Most of these funds were allocated to broadcast advertising during the legislative session when the bill was under scrutiny.

Notably, the ban on gray machines was eventually passed and is currently being challenged in court. In response to the legislation, several gambling interests, including Pace-O-Matic, the manufacturer of the gray machines, reported significant lobbying expenditures. The company spent $110,150 on lobbying efforts last year.

Additionally, several race tracks that supported the ban on gray machines and the legalization of sports betting also invested heavily in lobbying. For instance, Churchill Downs reported spending $128,090; Keeneland spent $112,226; The Red Mile, $89,930; Revolutionary Racing, $81,174; and ECL Entertainment, $45,000.