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Kentucky Judge Keeps Skill Games Ban In Place

Skill games in Kentucky won’t be legalized anytime soon, as Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled to keep the games illegal.

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Katarina Vojvodic Avatar
2 mins read

Supporters of a Kentucky law banning skill game machines secured a legal victory on June 28, leaving the games illegal.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd rejected claims that the 2023 law violated several sections of the state constitution. Shepherd granted a summary judgment requested by state Attorney General Russell Coleman’s office, ruling without a full trial.

Key takeaways

  • The unlicensed machines, called “skill games,” are usually placed in convenience stores, gas stations, and bars and restaurants across Kentucky.
  • Governor Andy Beshear signed HB 594 into law in March 2023, banning skill games. Other initiatives and bills to legalize and regulate the machines have failed. 
  • Supporters sued to annul Beshear’s skill game ban, claiming it violated free-speech rights under Kentucky’s constitution. They suggested rival legislation that would regulate and tax skill game machines. However, opponents characterize the games as illegal and fear that failure to ban the devices could lead to further expansion of gambling in the state.
  • Virginia and Pennsylvania currently deal with similar issues regarding the legality of skill games.

Kentucky skill games remain illegal for now

According to an Associated Press article, Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne said the decision

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

The law banning skill game machines was one of the most lobbied and debated measures in Kentucky’s 2023 legislative session.

While supporters have promoted legislation regulating the machines, opponents of the games were strictly against it.  They warned that a failure to ban the devices would lead to the expansion of gambling in Kentucky.

In his ruling, Shepherd dismissed many arguments by the plaintiff’s group, led by Pace-O-Matic. Some of the arguments included claims that the law violated free speech rights and subjectively banned skill games in violation of the state’s constitution. Shepherd also rejected arguments that skill games are similar to amusement games.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, J. Guthrie True, emailed a statement saying that his team “will be evaluating the ruling” and is consulting with their clients “concerning an appeal.”

The legality of skill games remains uncertain in Pennsylvania and Virginia

The debate on whether Virginia will abolish and replace its law banning skill games is over, for this year at least. All the hopes died last month when Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ended that conversation.

The skill games legislation (SB 212) was returned to Youngkin’s desk after the General Assembly rejected his proposed recommendations. Sen. Aaron Rouse sponsored the legislation to support Virginia small businesses, arguing that their revenue remains critical.

In the Keystone State, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will decide whether skill games are licensed gambling machines. PA lawmakers have been divided on whether and how to regulate skill games for years.

The Pennsylvania Lottery and the casino industry oppose skill games, saying they lose revenue to venues offering such gaming activity. On the other hand, banning skill games altogether would harm the state’s tax revenue.

Katarina Vojvodic Avatar
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Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for PlayCanada.com. Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

View all posts by Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for PlayCanada.com. Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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