Kentucky judge keeps ban in place on slots-like ‘gray machines’

Supporters of a Kentucky law banning slots-like machines scored a legal victory Friday when a judge kept in place a measure to permanently unplug the video games that offered cash payouts and were branded as “gray machines” during legislative debates.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd rejected claims that the 2023 law violated various sections of the state’s constitution. The judge granted a summary judgment requested by state Attorney General Russell Coleman’s office, meaning he ruled without a full trial on the matter.

In defending the statute, Coleman said Friday that his office argued on behalf of the Legislature’s “fundamental role” as the state’s policymaking body. He praised lawmakers for taking a “bold and bipartisan step to protect Kentucky children and families when they outlawed ‘gray machines.’”

The devices were branded as “gray machines” based on their murky legal status at the time.

Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne said the ruling “further confirms that these games were illegal and operating without any of the appropriate regulatory guidelines.”

An attorney for the plaintiffs, J. Guthrie True, said in an emailed statement that his team “will be evaluating the ruling and consulting with our clients concerning an appeal.”

The law banning the devices was one of the most heavily lobbied and hotly contested measures in Kentucky’s 2023 Legislative Session. The debate revolved around the proliferation of cash payout games set up in convenience stores, gas stations and bars across the Bluegrass State.

Supporters referred to them as legal “skill games” and promoted rival legislation that would have regulated and taxed the machines. Opponents of the games warned that a failure to banish the devices would have led to the largest expansion of gambling in Kentucky history.

In his ruling, Shepherd rejected multiple arguments by the plaintiffs, including claims that the law violated free speech rights and arbitrarily banned games of skill in violation of Kentucky’s constitution.

“It was entirely unreasonable, based on Kentucky’s long history of regulating gambling … for an investor to expect that any machine operating on the fringe zones of legality as a gambling device would be exempt from subsequent regulation or prohibition by the Legislature,” the judge wrote.

The measure banning the devices, he said, was a “lawful exercise of the Legislature’s police power to regulate gambling for the legitimate governmental interest in addressing the social harms of unregulated forms of gambling.”

In recent years, Kentucky lawmakers passed other legislation that secured the legal status of wagering on historical racing machines — a lucrative revenue source tapped into by horse tracks in the state. The slots-style historical racing machines allow people to bet on randomly generated, past horse races. The games typically show video of condensed horse races. The tracks have reinvested some of the revenue to make Kentucky’s horse racing circuit more competitive with casino-backed tracks in other states.

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.




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