Competing bills take drastically different approach to Kentucky gray machines

Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort
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Two new bills introduced in Kentucky take very different approaches to how to handle the growing number of gray gambling machines in the state.

The bill from Rep. Killian Timoney, HB551, aims to outlaw these machines by clarifying the current state gambling law. The bill from Rep. Steve Doan, HB525, seeks to create a Kentucky Gaming Commission to regulate these machines at bars, restaurants, and truck stops.

Timoney’s bill is similar to one that nearly got across the finish line last year. The gist of the bill is that it outlaws “coin-operated amusement machines” that offer cash payouts. It would make these machines illegal not only in public places but in private clubs like FOPs and veteran’s organizations.

In an interview on KET’s Kentucky Insight, Timoney spoke about how the machines classify themselves as “games of skill” through the use of a memory game similar to the old game, Simon. However, interspersed with that memory component are reel-based games with no skill that look and feel like slot machines.

“It’s a gambling device and you put your money in and you hope to win more money than you put in. So by definition, it is a gambling device. But they’re called gray machines because they do operate within a gray area of the law,” Timoney explained.

He also noted that Kentucky simply does not, in his mind, have the infrastructure in place to oversee and regulate these types of machines.

“We would have to build a whole new branch of government almost, or an agency in government, and then staff it, and then develop the rules that go along with it. So it was a really really daunting task.”

Doan’s bill attempts to undertake that daunting task with the creation of the commission, which would inspect the games to ensure the skill element is being met. The bill would also tax the games at a rate of 6%, which is the same as the state sales tax.

The bill would allow up to two machines per 500 square feet of common space in businesses but a maximum of five machines per establishment. The exception would be state truck stops, where 10 terminals would be allowed.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Daymon Thayer appeared at Keeneland racetrack in Lexington this week and said that banning the machines was one of the top priorities this session.