Published: July 1, 2024

Skill Games Remain Banned in Kentucky Following Judge’s Ruling

Skill games in Kentucky won’t be powered back on anytime soon after a county judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on the controversial machines.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd on Friday granted a summary judgment in favor of Attorney General Russell Coleman’s office. The summary judgment rules in favor of the state without a full trial being held.

The Kentucky General Assembly and Gov. Andy Beshear (D) passed a ban on skill games in March 2023. Before the law’s passage, the slot-like gaming machines were popular in an array of small businesses, including restaurants and bars, gas stations, grocery markets, and convenience stores.

House Bill 594, which provides for fines of up to $25K per machine if the devices remain operational, was challenged by supporters of the games.

The  plaintiff’s group was led by Pace-O-Matic, the Georgia software company that developed the popular skill game titles distributed in the Bluegrass State, including Burning Barrel. ARKK Properties, which operated a convenience store that had included skill games before the legislature banned them, joined POM in the case.

Case Rejected 

In their lawsuit, POM and ARKK alleged that the Kentucky General Assembly violated free speech protections under the state Constitution and unlawfully targeted skill games on the erroneous interpretation that the games are gambling machines. The skill component of such games typically involves the player needing to tap on the reels’ winning payline. With a traditional slot, the machine does that automatically.

In his ruling, Shepherd told the plaintiffs that determining the policy of gambling activities and other games of chance, regardless of whether they involve skill components, is a fundamental purpose of the General Assembly’s existence. The judge also dismissed arguments that skill games are similar to amusement games.

Gray machines are not similarly situated to the coin-operated amusement machines one might encounter at Malibu Jack’s or Chuck E. Cheese even though both categories of machines allegedly require the use of player skill. The Attorney General correctly pointed out that coin-operated amusement machines limit their prizes to values not exceeding $25 per single play, while gray machines provide no such limit on the value of their prizes. Consequently, the legislature acted rationally in distinguishing between gray machines and coin-operated amusement machines that are not similarly situated,” Shepherd wrote.

Coleman celebrated the judicial ruling.

“Our legislators took a bold and bipartisan step to protect Kentucky children and families when they outlawed gray machines. After the law was challenged, our office launched a vigorous defense of the statute and the General Assembly’s fundamental role as our Commonwealth’s policymaking body,” Coleman said.

Appeal Possible 

The plaintiffs’ group told the Associated Press that it’s “evaluating the ruling and consulting with our clients concerning an appeal.”

POM is leading such an appeal in Pennsylvania where skill games have also become a major regulatory headache for law enforcement in recent years. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will soon begin reviewing whether lower courts that ruled skill games aren’t illegal gambling machines under the state’s Gaming Act was the correct interpretation of the legal dispute.

Kentucky, unlike Pennsylvania, doesn’t have legal slot machines.

The Bluegrass State does allow historical horse racing (HHR) machines at horse racetracks and parimutuel wagering parlors. HHR games provide bettors with electronic parimutuel wagering games where the spin’s outcome is based on a previously run horse race.

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