For the second consecutive year, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill banning slot-like skill games. However, this year, House Bill 594 advanced to the desk of Governor Andy Beshear, who signed it into law March 16.
Earlier, the House voted 64-32 in favor and the Senate voted 29-6. Thousands of the games, manufactured by Prominent Technologies, Pace-O-Matic and others, have been installed in convenience stores, restaurants and bars statewide in nearly all 120 Kentucky counties.
Last year, a bill outlawing the games passed the House and Senate, but lawmakers could not agree on an amended version before the end of the session. Afterward, lawmakers and lobbyists on both sides of the issue resumed promoting their positions in preparation for this year’s debate.
Supporters of the ban, led by the organization Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling (KAIG), said failing to ban the devices would result in the largest gambling expansion in Kentucky history.
The group’s Executive Director Mark Guilfoyle said, “We commend the Kentucky General Assembly for bringing House Bill 594 across the finish line to protect Kentucky families and communities from the dangers of illegal gray machine gambling.”
Opponents of the ban claim the machines are legal skill games and said many small businesses that offer them will lose revenue.
Among critics of the ban is the Kentucky Merchants and Amusement Coalition (KY-MAC), whose President Wes Jackson said, “It’s clear that some lawmakers are committed to putting the requests of one constituent, Churchill Downs Inc., over the needs of thousands of their constituents who are relying on the income of legal skill games. We thank those lawmakers, in both chambers, who voted against HB 594, standing up for Kentucky small businesses in the process.”
Those opposed to the ban said they want the machines to be regulated and taxed; however, ban proponents said the other side only proposed that in response to counter a total ban.
Pro-ban supporter state Sen. Whitney Westerfield accused anti-ban colleagues of “hypocrisy,” citing lawmakers’ approval of historical horse racing (HHR) two years ago, after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled HHR games were illegal.
Westerfield said, “I sure wish the passion for stopping these machines had been here two years ago, because it is the exact opposite scenario. Instead of wanting to help an industry, we’re trying to stop an industry, and I don’t like either of the industries.”
In a statement following the Senate vote, Prominent Technologies said the company would not “give up the fight for” Kentucky small businesses and reiterated its claim the games are legal under Kentucky law.
The leadup to the vote was certainly expensive for both sides, as the Louisville Courier Journal reported that KAIG and KY-MAC combined to spend just over $600,000 on television ads for January and February, which was the most spent on any initiative in the state this year.
Broken down separately, KY-MAC shelled out $315,425 in what ultimately became a losing effort, and KAIG put up $287,623, per the Courier Journal.