House GOP split over whether to ban slot-style ‘gray’ machines

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Despite having a supermajority in the Kentucky House, Republicans stalled on whether to pass a bill banning slot-style machines that are common throughout the Commonwealth’s gas stations and bars.

House Bill 594 would ban “gray machines” — often referred to by supporters of the machines as “skill games” — throughout the state.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Killian Timoney (R-Nicholasville), said it would clarify what types of gaming devices are legal under Kentucky law. Currently, according to Timoney, Kentucky allows three types of gaming — lottery, charitable gaming and pari-mutuel gaming.

An amendment introduced Friday also defined e-gaming sports.

“Kentucky has always done an excellent job of regulating gaming, and we want to continue that effort now by outlawing illegal gaming machines,” Timoney said.

Those violating the law would be fined $25,000, with the money going to the county where the violation occurred.

Opponents of the bill say it would allow the horse racing industry to monopolize the gambling industry in Kentucky.

“For one of the elephants in the room — yes,  the racetracks have seen and contributed to the language,” Timoney said. “They don’t like all of it but are not opposing the bill. No, it is not a Churchill Downs bill.”

Timoney noted that the gaming industry, the State Fair board, and the University of Kentucky contributed language to the bill.

The bill passed the Licensing and Occupations committee last Thursday, but when brought for a House vote on Friday, Rep. Chris Fugate (R-Chavies) said he disagrees with all forms of gambling — including gray machines.

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“These machines are the ones taken my people’s — in District 84 — money,” Fugate said.

But, he had concerns over whether banning the machines would allow a monopoly for Churchill Downs and whether they could introduce a future bill for their own devices.

“I don’t know how to vote on this today,” Fugate said, noting that he isn’t the only legislator who shares that sentiment.

Northern Kentucky Rep. Steve Doan (R-Erlanger), who introduced a bill this session that seeks to regulate and tax gray machines in House Bill 525, then requested to table the bill.

“Today, we’re presented with a binary choice —  a choice between Wild West unregulated gaming or an outright ban,” Doan said. “Let me tell you, neither choice is right for Kentucky.”

Doan then presented a third choice — the regulation and taxation of the machines. In addition to Doan’s House Bill 525, another bill has been filed to accomplish the same goal, but they haven’t been heard this legislative session.

“For many Kentuckians, skill games are the difference between shutting their doors or sending their employees home with a paycheck,” Doan said.

Doan requested to table the bill and vote on whether to table it, and it passed 42-35 — casting doubt on whether the bill would be able to pass in the remaining 10 days of the 30-day legislative session.

The vote only required a simple majority. Thirty-seven Republicans voted to table the bill, with 34 voting against it — meaning to pass it the body might require some votes from the Democrats.

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