Bill Seeking to Ban Gray Gambling Machines Advances in Kentucky: Takes Priority Over Sports Betting Bill
Two gambling bills are currently making their way through Kentucky legislation — one aimed at legalizing sports betting in the state and the other aimed at making a decision on what to do with gray gambling machines in the state. The Sports betting bill took a backseat last week as legislators focus on whether or not to ban gray gambling machines.
Kentucky advances bill to ban gray gambling machines
Kentucky legislators introduced two gambling bills this year – one to legalize sports betting and one to ban gray gambling machines within the state.
Both bills were introduced on Feb. 22 and referred to the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee.
One bill has received more attention from the committee thus far – the bill to ban Kentucky gray machines. This bill, HB 594, advanced through the committee last Thursday via a 13-7 vote. Now, it heads to the House floor for consideration.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s sports betting bill had to wait until this week for discussion.
Skill-game manufacturers at odds with Kentucky racetracks
Gray machines are slot-like gambling machines that are technically neither legal nor illegal. They exist in a legal gray area. And as such, they’ve been popping up in gas stations, bars, restaurants and liquor stores across Kentucky.
Kentucky’s small businesses benefit from the additional traffic and revenue these machines create. On the other hand, state gaming halls and horse racetracks see this as a threat to business.
In fact, Mike Barley from skill-game brand Pace-O-Matic believes these ban efforts originated from none other than Churchill Downs. During Thursday’s meeting, Barley said:
“This bill is working in concert with sports gaming legislation to create a monopoly for Churchill Downs and others.”
But the bill’s author, Rep. Killian Timoney, emphasized that Churchill Downs is not associated with the bill.
Small business owners oppose gray gambling ban
Former Kentucky legislator Bob Heleringer, who’s now a lobbyist for Prominent Technologies, said small businesses will ultimately be the ones hurt most by this bill.
He questioned whether lawmakers would allow the horse racing industry to “crush anyone that they think is a possible competitor.”
“It’s a tough market out there for these convenience stores, liquor stores, grocery stores. We’re not in a single chain, we’re all in small business. That’s who you’re going to hurt with this bill.”
Kentucky Merchants and Amusement Coalition members were in heavy attendance at the meeting, further affirming Heleringer’s statement.
Support for Kentucky gray machines ban
In an attempt to find common ground, skill-game manufacturers proposed HB 525, a bill that would regulate and tax such machines. But that bill has failed to gain any traction.
Instead, gray machine ban supporters have spoken the loudest.
Mark Guilfoyle of Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling led support for the bill. The organization represents Kentucky horse racetracks, charitable gaming and four chambers of commerce.
“Unless you pass HB 594, we’re going to see mini-casinos popping up on every street corner across Kentucky. These things are going to be woven into the fabric of everyday life.”
Gray machine ban won’t deter sports betting discussion
The push to legalize historical horse racing took center stage in 2021, and sports betting lost ground again in 2022. Thus, this year’s priority on banning gray gaming machines isn’t entirely out of the ordinary.
However, with such a short session period, timely discussion of these topics becomes even more crucial.
Sports betting bill author Rep. Michael Meredith is confident it won’t hinder this year’s efforts for legalization, though. And so far, he’s right on the money.
The Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee heard sports betting bill HB 551 this Wednesday.