Proposal to ban slot-like skill games clears Kentucky House

March 8, 2023 8:47 PM
Photo: By Kittugwiki - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
  • Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
March 8, 2023 8:47 PM
  • Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – In a dramatic about-face, the Kentucky House voted Wednesday to ban the prolific devices resembling slot machines – just days after the heavily lobbied measure had stalled.

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House Speaker David Osborne went to the chamber’s floor to make a procedural motion to resume consideration of the measure. The proposal, House Bill 594, had been tabled by the House last Friday.

Osborne’s motion was approved, and a few minutes later the bill won House passage on a 64-32 vote. The measure heads to the Senate as this year’s session moves into its home stretch.

The debate revolves around cash payout games that have proliferated in stores across Kentucky. Supporters refer to them as legal “skill games” that require the player to do more than push a button. Others dub them as “gray machines,” based on their murky legal status.

The sudden reversal of the bill’s status transpired with little discussion, but Osborne gave a forceful explanation for the House’s action afterward.

“Today’s House vote sends a clear message that there is no place for gambling entities that skirt the law in order to flood Kentucky with unregulated casino-style gaming without limit or oversight,” the speaker said in a statement.

The action prompted reaction from interest groups on both sides of the contentious debate.

The Kentucky Merchants and Amusement Coalition, which supports keeping the games in the state, said the House action Wednesday was “unfortunate” after “so many Kentucky small business owners contacted their legislators about the benefits of skill games.”

“We are hopeful that our supporters in the Senate will put this dangerous ban bill to rest, putting the needs of actual Kentuckians, not the profits of big business, first,” Wes Jackson, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Opponents of the ban are pushing for legislation that would regulate and tax the machines.

A group supporting the ban, Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling, praised the House action reviving the bill, just days after it had urged the chamber to reconsider the proposed ban.

“Passing HB594 is the only certain and viable option to prevent every restaurant, gas station and convenience store in the commonwealth from becoming a mini casino,” Mark Guilfoyle, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

The issue has confounded Kentucky lawmakers for some time.

Last year, a bill to banish the machines passed the House and Senate, but lawmakers couldn’t agree on an amended version before the legislative session ended. That led to months of continued jockeying by both sides in preparation for their next showdown in this year’s 30-day session. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

The issue has been lobbied intensely by both sides, and their well-scripted talking points were on full display during a House committee hearing last week.

Proponents of the ban focused on the proliferation of the machines. A failure to banish the devices will lead to the largest expansion of gambling in Kentucky history, they said.

Opponents of the ban countered that such a move would hurt small businesses – including gas stations and bars – that offer the games to customers.