Slots or not? Lawmakers pressured on “gray machines”

Slots or not? Lawmakers pressured on “gray machines”
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 6:18 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Slot machines are illegal in Kentucky.

But the debate over slot machine look-a-likes known as “gray machines” is heating up in Frankfort.

Supporters want the machines regulated and taxed, while opponents want them banned.

The proponents of these machines say they’re legal and provide a boost to a business’s bottom line.

The machines look like slots but require the player to make a small change to the game to win.

Whether that’s a win for Kentucky is being fought over.

“I get a cut and the people that’s got the games get a cut,” VFW Post 6182 Quartermaster Melvin Reed said.

He said the machines inside the post have helped keep it and others afloat. While the machines look like slot machines, they’re actually electronic pull tabs, legal under Kentucky’s charitable gaming rules.

“A lot of them are struggling,” Reed said. “We’re one of them, but these machines help out.”

But a new crop of machines similar to these which require a player to make a choice on a spin to win has mushroomed into gas stations, bars and restaurants across the state.

“Why would anybody that lives three or four blocks up when they go to the store to get milk or whatever,” Reed said. “There’s two or three machines there, they’ll sit and play them before come to one of ours.”

Supporters say the machines are legal and have given those businesses a boost. They want lawmakers to fully endorse them, spending $38,000 in radio ads in Louisville so far to spread their message. Opponents are spending tens of thousands on their own message too.

“They are magnets for crime,” Mark Guilfoyle said.

He represents Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling. The group wants the machines banned and tossed out of the state.

“If a game has an element of chance, then that game is illegal,” Guilfoyle said.

Lawmakers have yet to act. One manufacturer asked the courts to clarify the machines’ legal status after multiple county attorneys threatened to have machines seized. But that lawsuit ended without any new clarity on what’s a slot machine, and what isn’t.

“Legislators are the ones that have got to do it, we could talk all we want but it’s up to them,” Reed said.

WAVE reached out to the Kentucky Merchants and Amusements Coalition but didn’t hear back by newstime.

The machines WAVE saw in Louisville have licenses issued by the metro.