Home » Op-Ed: Skill Games: A win-win for Kentucky

Op-Ed: Skill Games: A win-win for Kentucky

by Bob Heleringer, Attorney and former Kentucky state legislator

In the classic movie “Casablanca,” there is a famous scene where the Nazi major orders the Prefect of Police to close down Humphrey Bogart’s nightclub.

“But I have no reason to close it,” the policeman pleads.

“Find one,” snaps the angry German.

Blowing his whistle, the gendarme shouts, “This café is closed! I’m shocked, SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in here!” With that, the croupier from the club’s gambling room presents the embarrassed police captain with a large sheaf of money, saying to him, “Your winnings, sir.”

Mark Guilfoyle recently wrote in this space that he is shocked, SHOCKED that gambling is going on in Kentucky. Mr. Guilfoyle is a lawyer and the executive director of an organization calling itself “Kentuckians Against Illegal Gambling.” This association (KAIG) is a Halloween fright mask to hide the identities of powerful people and businesses that make their living off gambling. That’s right, KAIG isn’t about stopping “predatory” gambling from ruining innocent children’s lives or “poisoning” small-town Kentucky values. The only gambling the KAIG hypocrites want to stop is the gambling its powerful interests do not (yet) own, control and profit from. This isn’t a moral crusade but a real effort by monopolists to control market share and decapitate perceived competitors instead of battling the old-fashioned way in a free market.

I represent a company—Prominent Technologies LLC—that has made a sizeable investment in Kentucky, bringing new jobs and enhanced profits for hundreds of small businesses in over 70 counties. Our company’s “Wildcat skill games” are popular in numerous taverns, convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and other locations. For a modest wager, $1 or $2, a player—if she/he is skilled enough at hand-eye coordination, memory, and mental acuity—can play a series of games and possibly win up to $2,000. It’s a choice of entertainment that is very low scale in risk/reward.

Mr. Guilfoyle’s column about our industry was long on propaganda and very short on facts, to wit:

(1)   Our skill games are not “illegal:” Under current state law, only games of pure chance constitute illegal gambling. That law specifically states that wagers on any games of skill “are not illegal gambling.” Not a single one of our games has been seized by law enforcement nor any of our operators prosecuted for any criminal offenses. If our skill games are already “illegal,” why do the KAIG elites demand that the legislature pass a bill to ban them?

(2)   Our skill games do not prey on children: Our company’s compliance department takes great care to see that our skill games are located in plain sight of a business’s check-out employees. Underage gambling is illegal in Kentucky and our company obeys the law. Most of our locations have no more than two or three machines, unlike Kentucky’s racetracks that have hundreds of unmanned mutuel terminals (that saves them money on hiring mutuel clerks) that have very little human scrutiny against underage use. Mr. Guilfoyle describes his clients’ own gambling as being conducted in “controlled gaming facilities.” Who is he kidding? See for yourself the next time you visit a racetrack or an off-track betting location. By having unstaffed, self-serve mutuel betting machines, the racetracks encourage and profit from any illegal underage use. (By law, minors are permitted to enter any of the commonwealth’s racetracks.)

(3)   Our skill games pay taxes: In some counties that have occupational taxes (e.g., Jefferson, Fayette and Franklin), each one of our machines is taxed on an annual basis. Moreover, our customers/operators pay corporate and personal income taxes on the revenue their businesses realize from having our skill games on-site. Our skill games are helping thousands of small business owners in Kentucky make a living in a very challenging economy.

(4)   Prominent Technologies is a good corporate citizen: Our company made generous donations to the Western Kentucky tornado relief fund and to the Eastern Kentucky flood relief fund. It has supported various charities in counties where our games are located.

(5)   We strongly support regulation/taxation: Please don’t be shocked, SHOCKED, but our company supports legislation in the next legislative session that will regulate and tax our business on any reasonable scale and amount. When is the last time you saw/heard/read about any business that welcomes (not runs from) more scrutiny, oversight, licensure, regulation and taxation? Such progressive legislation would be a win-win-win that would be a boon to small, usually family-owned businesses, preserves a recreation option for thousands of our fellow citizens who enjoy playing our games, and provides a new revenue stream for a state legislature committed to eliminating Kentucky’s income tax.

Click here for more Op-Eds.