Published: April 1, 2023

The Kentucky Senate gave final passage to, and Governor signed into law, a bill banning "gray machines"

The Kentucky Senate gave final passage Tuesday to a bill banning so-called "gray machines," the video games with cash payouts that have proliferated in stores, bars and clubs around the state in recent years.

House Bill 594 cleared through the chamber easily by a 29-6 vote, sending it to the desk of Gov. Andy Beshear, who signed it into law on Thursday.

What the legislature should do with gray machines — called "skill games" by supporters — has been one of the most heavily lobbied issues over the past two years in Frankfort, with two groups on opposing sides of HB 594 collectively spending more than $300,000 on ads in January alone.

Supporters of a ban on the games argued they amounted to an illegal expansion of gambling, calling convenience stores with multiple games "mini casinos."

Opponents of a ban said the games are legal and kept many struggling small businesses afloat in tough economic times, instead supporting an alternate bill to regulate and tax them.

The issue split the legislative caucuses in unusual ways — evidenced by a hiccup in the House two weeks ago when the bill came to the floor for passage and was suddenly tabled in a surprise procedural maneuver. A slight majority of Republicans voted to table it, but it returned to the House floor last week and was passed.

While some of the Republicans opposed to a ban do so based on their beliefs of limited government, others are staunchly anti-gambling, yet believe it is hypocritical to go after gray games when the legislature voted in 2021 to legalize the similar, slots-like historical horse racing (HHR) machines of the horse racing industry — which financially supported the push to pass HB 594.

That struggle was evidenced in the floor speech of Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, as the anti-gambling senator voted for HB 594, but mentioned the "hypocrisy" at play when the legislature had previously approved legalizing HHR for the horse industry in what he called the "slot machine bill."

"I sure wish the passion for stopping these machines had been here two years ago," Westerfield said.

© Public Gaming Research Institute. All rights reserved.