Kentucky Skill Games Ban to Remain in Place

In a significant ruling that upholds the contentious ban on skill games in Kentucky, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has decided to keep the prohibition intact, rejecting numerous constitutional challenges posed by the plaintiffs. The decision, stemming from a lawsuit that targeted a 2023 Kentucky law, has solidified the state's stance against these gaming devices, which have become widespread in convenience stores, gas stations, and bars.

Skill games machines in a convenience store in Kentucky. (Source: Lexington Herald Leader)

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The plaintiffs in the case argued that the 2023 law banning skill games violated several sections of the Kentucky constitution. They contended that the prohibition infringed on free speech rights and was an arbitrary measure that unfairly targeted games of skill. However, Judge Shepherd meticulously reviewed these claims and found them unpersuasive. He concluded that the law did not breach constitutional protections and was a legitimate exercise of the state's regulatory powers.

Related: Virginia Gov Pushing for Changes to Proposed Skill Games Legislation

Judge Shepherd's ruling highlighted the state's authority to regulate gambling and gaming activities within its borders. He noted that the legislature acted within its rights to address the proliferation of cash payout games, which many lawmakers and opponents of the devices view as a form of unregulated gambling. By upholding the ban, Shepherd emphasized the state's interest in maintaining regulatory control over gaming to prevent potential negative social and economic impacts associated with unregulated gambling.

The 2023 law that bans skill games in Kentucky was among the most heavily lobbied and fiercely contested measures during the legislative session. The debate centered on the rapid increase of these devices in various retail locations across the state.

Proponents of the ban argued that skill games operate in a legal gray area, exploiting loopholes to offer gambling-like experiences without the stringent oversight and regulation that traditional gambling activities are subject to. Opponents, however, claimed that these games are based on skill rather than chance and should not be subjected to the same restrictions as gambling machines.

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The Great Skill Games Divide

The ruling in Kentucky comes as several other states grapple with the regulation of skill games. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the legal status of skill games has been a contentious issue, with state authorities frequently conducting raids and seizures of these machines while legal battles continue. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to settle the argument once and for all, even as Governor Phil Youngkin continues to view skill games as a viable source of revenue.

Similarly, Virginia has seen significant legislative efforts to control the proliferation of skill games, resulting in a temporary ban while the state develops a comprehensive regulatory framework. Louisiana, on the other hand, has enacted specific regulations to distinguish skill games from illegal gambling devices, aiming to strike a balance between allowing the games and ensuring they do not undermine the regulated gambling market.

Kentucky skill games supporters are now reviewing their options ahead of a potential appeal. The outcome of this legal battle may influence how other states approach the issue, as they observe Kentucky's efforts to address the proliferation of these devices. The ruling also sends a clear message to operators of skill games that the state is prepared to take stringent measures to control what it perceives as unregulated gambling activities.


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