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Kentucky Skill Game Ban Upheld in Court, Machines Remain Illegal

Kentucky's ban on skill game machines upheld by court, keeping the devices illegal. Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the 2023 law constitutional, amidst debates over gambling expansion and similar legal battles in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
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Kentucky Flag

Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Jul 9, 2024

Kentucky Uphill Battle

June 28, 2024 – Frankfort, KY – In a significant legal decision, supporters of a Kentucky law banning skill game machines secured a victory, ensuring the continued illegality of these devices in the state. Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd dismissed claims that the 2023 legislation violated multiple sections of the state constitution, granting a summary judgment requested by state Attorney General Russell Coleman’s office. The ruling was made without a full trial.

Skill games, unlicensed machines often found in convenience stores, gas stations, bars, and restaurants, were banned when Governor Andy Beshear signed HB 594 into law in March 2023. Attempts to legalize and regulate these machines through other initiatives and bills have so far failed.

  • Legal Victory for Ban Supporters: Supporters of the Kentucky law banning skill game machines secured a legal victory as Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the 2023 law did not violate the state constitution, thus keeping the machines illegal.
  • Governor's Action and Legislative Debate: Governor Andy Beshear signed HB 594 into law in March 2023, banning skill games. The law was one of the most lobbied and debated measures in the 2023 legislative session, with opponents warning that failing to ban the devices could lead to expanded gambling in Kentucky.
  • Wider Legal Context: Similar legal issues surrounding the legality of skill games are being debated in other states, including Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Virginia, attempts to replace the ban have stalled, while the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on whether skill games are licensed gambling machines.

 

The lawsuit, initiated by supporters of the machines, argued that the ban infringed on free speech rights under Kentucky’s constitution and suggested rival legislation to regulate and tax the games. Opponents, however, maintained that the games were illegal and expressed concerns that failing to ban the devices would lead to expanded gambling in the state.

Judge Shepherd’s ruling dismissed several arguments by the plaintiff’s group, led by Pace-O-Matic, including claims that the law violated free speech and unjustly targeted skill games in a way that contravened the state constitution. The court also rejected the argument that skill games are akin to amusement games.

Responding to the ruling, Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne stated that the decision “further confirms that these games were illegal and operating without any of the appropriate regulatory guidelines.” The ban on skill game machines was one of the most lobbied and debated measures in Kentucky’s 2023 legislative session. While supporters pushed for regulation, opponents warned that not banning the devices could lead to gambling expansion in Kentucky.

Plaintiff attorney J. Guthrie True indicated in an emailed statement that his team would be “evaluating the ruling” and consulting with their clients regarding a potential appeal.

The legality of skill games remains contentious beyond Kentucky, with similar issues unfolding in Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Virginia, the debate was temporarily halted last month when Governor Glenn Youngkin ended discussions on abolishing and replacing the existing ban. Legislation aimed at supporting small businesses by legalizing skill games was sent back to Youngkin after the General Assembly rejected his recommendations.

 

“This decision further confirms that these games were illegal and operating without any of the appropriate regulatory guidelines.”

 

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court is set to decide the fate of skill games. The issue has divided lawmakers for years, with the Pennsylvania Lottery and casino industry opposing skill games due to revenue losses, while others argue that banning the games would hurt state tax revenue.

As the legal battles continue in various states, Kentucky’s stance remains clear for now, with skill games staying illegal following Judge Shepherd's recent ruling.

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