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Kentucky Judge Reinforces Ban on Unlicensed Grey Skill Games


In a decisive judicial ruling, Kentucky’s ban on unlicensed grey skill games remains firmly in place. The controversial machines, often found in convenience stores, gas stations, and bars across the state, were formally outlawed by House Bill 594, which was signed into law by Governor Andy Beshear in March 2023. Efforts to legalize and regulate these grey skill games have encountered persistent roadblocks, with opponents arguing that such a move would represent the most significant expansion of gambling in Kentucky’s history.

Historically, Kentucky has maintained stringent control over machine gaming, permitting such activities solely at racetracks through historical horse racing (HHR) machines. These HHR machines received legislative approval in 2021. Furthermore, in March 2023, the state expanded its gambling laws to include both retail and digital sports betting.

The controversy surrounding grey skill games led to a legal battle, with supporters of the machines filing a lawsuit to challenge Governor Beshear’s ban. Plaintiffs in the case contended that the prohibition infringes upon free speech rights and arbitrarily targets these games in violation of the Kentucky Constitution.

However, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd dismissed these claims in a summary judgment sought by the state attorney general’s office. This move upheld the position previously shared by the attorney general, asserting that the ban neither contravenes free speech rights nor breaches equal protection guarantees.

Judge Shepherd explained his decision by referencing Kentucky’s long-standing tradition of regulating gambling. “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,” Shepherd stated. He further noted that the legislation banning grey skills games represents “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.”

The ruling was met with satisfaction by key state lawmakers. Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne emphasized that the judgment “further confirms that these games were illegal and operating without any of the appropriate regulatory guidelines,” as reported by the Associated Press.

Nevertheless, the battle may not be over.

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. An attorney for one of the plaintiffs informed the Associated Press via email that their legal team is currently reviewing the judge’s ruling and may consider pursuing an appeal. This indicates that while the court has upheld the ban, the broader debate over grey skill games in Kentucky is far from concluded.

The ruling is the latest development in an ongoing controversy that has seen multiple legal challenges. Prominent Technologies, another major player in the grey skill games market, brought a separate case before the Jefferson Circuit Court. This case also sought to invalidate the ban. However, the Jefferson Circuit Court dismissed the case on June 26, paralleling the decision in Franklin County.

The debate over grey skill games strikes at the heart of larger issues concerning gambling regulation in Kentucky. Supporters of legalising and regulating these games argue that they offer a form of entertainment that could generate revenue for the state. Conversely, opponents warn that legalizing such machines would open the floodgates to widespread, unchecked gambling, creating significant social risks.

Kentucky has traditionally held a conservative stance on gambling. The state has cautiously expanded its gambling laws, allowing racetrack-based HHR machines and recently embracing sports betting. However, the notion of permitting a proliferation of grey skill games remains a contentious issue that pits economic interests against social concerns.

As this legal saga continues to unfold, the ruling by Judge Shepherd underscores the complexity and sensitivity surrounding gambling regulation in Kentucky. The implications of this decision will likely reverberate through ongoing policy discussions and future legislative sessions, potentially shaping the future landscape of gaming in the state.

For now, the ban on grey skill games stands firm, reinforcing Kentucky’s commitment to maintaining stringent gambling regulations and highlighting the ongoing debate over the role and impact of such machines in the state. As stakeholders on both sides of the issue weigh their next steps, the broader questions of gambling policy and regulation in Kentucky remain at the forefront of public discourse.