LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A push to outlaw "gray machines" in Kentucky is heading on to the next step.

House Bill 594 passed in the House on Wednesday, and then Thursday, it was assigned to the Senate's Licensing and Occupations Committee.

If the bill is signed into law, the so-called skill games that look like slot machines would be banned.

You may have seen them at bars, restaurants and gas stations.

"It was just so much fun to realize these machines were here and we could play them," Suzie Dezarn said.

Dezarn is a frequent customer at Bud's Tavern.

Gray machines Buds Tavern 1-24-23 (2).JPG

Bud's Tavern in Jeffersontown features three Burning Barrel machines that proprietor Rebecca Henry says customers love. The tavern also has an ATM-like ticket redemption machine to support Burning Barrel. Called "skill games" by their manufacturers and "gray games" by opponents, the machines are at the center of an expensive lobbying fight in Kentucky. Some want to regulate and tax them, while others say they are illegal gambling and should be explicitly banned. Jan. 24, 2023 (WDRB photo) 

"I'm not a big gambler, but to come here, have a few beers with my friends, Dezarn said. "We have so much fun. So, we win a little, we lose a little, it doesn't matter. It's just fun."

Rebecca Henry is the owner of Bud's Tavern. She brought in three skill games a year ago.

"They just became an instant hit," Henry said. "This pays bills, you know. It keep the lights on and a roof over our heads."

She and other proponents call these machines skill games. Game manufacturers such as Tennessee-based Pace-O-Matic and hundreds of other small businesses are pushing to regulate and tax the games.

"That requires a player to participate in the game," Michael Barley, with Pace-O-Matic, said. "To play the game to win. And a true skill game, you can win every single time."

But Mark Guilfoyle, the executive director for Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling, said the gray machines attract crime.

"They're way too accessible to minors and to problem gamblers," Guilfoyle said.

KAIG is funded by the horse racing industry and leading the fight to ban these games.

"It's already illegal," Guilfoyle said. "We're just reaffirming that fact and clarifying crystal-clear in House Bill 594."

The state of Kentucky only allows gambling through the state lottery, charitable gaming, and horse racing, including the slots-like historical horse racing you see at Churchill's Derby City Gaming.

"The concept of parimutuel wagering is that you have, the wagers are pooled, they're interconnected," Guilfoyle said. "The machines are interconnected. And there's pooling that goes on. You also have an incredible IT operation where these machines, at a racetrack they can be monitored from a central location to make sure that they're operating properly. That they're paying out properly. That there are no glitches in how they're operating, and so all of that data is collected. It's available for regulators to look at."

Proponents of the skill games were hoping for regulation and taxation in a different Frankfort bill, but that has stalled.

"That leadership in Frankfort are looking to do the bidding of Churchill Downs, and put us out of business," Barley said.

Henry hopes to keep the machines plugged in and her lights on.

"This is a game. It's entertainment. It's not a crime to come play a burning barrel game," Henry said.

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