Home » Op-Ed: Time to stop illegal gambling machines in Kentucky

Op-Ed: Time to stop illegal gambling machines in Kentucky

by Mark Guilfoyle, Executive Director, Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling

If an illegal business that could harm our children and families came into our community, we’d expect local authorities to shut it down quickly. But when it comes to illegal “gray machine” gambling, Kentucky has turned a blind eye.

Thousands of gray machines are already proliferating in our communities. These are unregulated, unauthorized, and untaxed gambling machines, and it’s time for Kentucky legislators to do something about them.

Without legal permission, out-of-state gambling companies have set up shop in thousands of local gas stations, convenience stores and other community venues across the Commonwealth—and more are arriving daily. They’ve already admitted to illegally operating over 3,000 machines in 850 small businesses and clubs across the state.

These machines operate with zero oversight, regulation or safeguards for underage or problem gamblers. And unlike state-authorized and legalized forms of gaming—the Kentucky lottery, charitable gaming and historical horse racing—gray machine gambling is not located in controlled gaming facilities where kids are not permitted, not monitored by state regulators and not taxed on earnings.

Now, gray machine operators are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and change the rules after much of the damage has been done. Unless the General Assembly takes action, Kentucky is poised to see the largest gambling expansion in its history—and our communities will bear the brunt of the consequences.

Gray machine operators know the rules but have chosen to ignore them and intend to keep poisoning our neighborhoods. After years of operating on the premise of “ask for forgiveness and not permission,” these same bad actors want the Kentucky General Assembly to bless their illegal business model and open the door for every gas station and convenience store in Kentucky to become a mini-casino. In fact, they’re already pushing legislation allowing them to put more than 40,000 new gambling machines at more than 7,200 locations across the Commonwealth.

When legislators return to Frankfort in January, they must swiftly pass legislation to ban gray machines once and for all to protect our communities and families from this massive proliferation of predatory gambling. In other states where this illegal form of gambling has been allowed to spread like wildfire, bad outcomes have followed: organized crime, money laundering, robberies, drug trafficking.

No Kentuckian wants their neighborhood, where they raise their children, to be a target for violent crime. We don’t let illegal drug dealers set up shop in our local convenience stores, nor should we allow illegal gambling.

At the same time, this unregulated gambling is siphoning away critical funding and resources from Kentucky’s charitable institutions, education and our signature horse industry—all of which benefit from gaming that’s approved by and complies with state law.

In the coming weeks and months, we’re sure to hear gray machine operators paint a much rosier picture—but one that omits many important details. The bottom line is that allowing gray machine gambling to proliferate is bad and unsafe for Kentucky’s future.

Kentucky legislators have to make an important choice in 2023. They can pass legislation to ban gray machines and protect our children and families from the significant dangers of illegal, unregulated gambling—or they can vote for the largest expansion of gaming in state history and pave the way for casinos on every corner. They can also choose to ignore the issue and reward gambling companies’ bad behavior by allowing gray machines to continue operating and proliferating illegally.

There’s only one choice that leads to a better future for Kentucky. I encourage our legislators to do the right thing and give illegal gambling machines the boot once and for all.

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