Are Slot Machines Legal in Kentucky?

Kentucky Flag on Left with Slots on Right

When it comes to gambling, Kentucky is well-known for its horse racing industry. The Bluegrass State holds multiple premier races, including the Kentucky Derby and Gardenia Stakes. It also features many other races throughout the year, too.

With that said, you won’t have any trouble betting on horses in Kentucky. But can you also play slot machines in this state?

Slots are the lifeblood of many gaming markets. Kentucky is a different matter, however, because it favors horse racing betting so much. You can read more on the legality of KY slot machines in the following post

Normal Slots Are Illegal in Kentucky

The Commonwealth doesn’t permit slot machines—at least the casino-style anyway. Its state constitution bans all forms of casino games.

As you’ll read later, various hybrid slot machines exist throughout the state. It may seem like Kentucky does permit slot machines. Again, though, it doesn’t allow casinos or traditional slots. Traditional slot machines are the variety that’s available in commercial casinos.

The results are entirely determined by a random number generator (RNG). They don’t feature any skill or nuances, like the games covered in the following sections.

Kentucky’s laws clearly state that unapproved gambling games with an “element of chance” are illegal. The element of chance aspect paves the way for legal skill-based gaming, which is relevant in the next section.

The Bluegrass State Does Tolerate Skill Games

Slots developers that want to serve Kentucky can’t just roll out Vegas-style slot machines. They’ve found a unique workaround by adding a small measure of skill to their slots.

Often called “skill games,” these machines may call on you to tap winning combinations for them to count. While this task isn’t hard, it does require a small amount of skill.

Kentucky outlaws all unregulated forms of gambling. On the other hand, it does permit games involving skill.

This is a big reason why carnival games can operate in Kentucky and many other states. Despite being rigged to some degree, carnival games allow players to influence the results.

KentuckySkill slot machines have the same aspect going for them. Even though they don’t require much prowess, they do call on players to be observant and tap relevant symbol/winning combinations.

One version of these games requires you to manually change one symbol to complete wins. If you land two matching symbols, you can manually change one to collect the payout.

Pace-O-Matic is a prominent skill game developer that’s serving Kentucky convenience stores and other businesses. They stay in the legal lane by ensuring that players must interact with machines rather than only spinning reels.

Pace-O-Matic’s Mike Barely feels comfortable that his company is doing things by the book. As a result, he’s not worried about any challenges from KY lawmakers.

Historic Horse Racing Machines Play Like Slots

Kentucky’s racetracks aren’t just sitting idly by while convenience stores capitalize on slots-like skill games. Instead, they’ve been running their own style of slot machines called “historic horse racing.”

Famed tracks like Churchill Downs offer many historic horse racing machines. They’re fueling what has become a $2.2 billion industry in the state.

The concept behind these games is that players are making pari-mutuel bets on past horse races—not just spinning reels. Of course, gamblers can’t distinguish the pari-mutuel side because it merely feels like they’re playing slot machines.

Not everybody is buying the idea that this industry is above board. The state’s Family Foundation believes that historic racing is nothing more than slots in disguise. It has taken its fight to the Kentucky Supreme Court twice, only to lose both times.

Historic horse racing is doing so well that Churchill Downs plans on building more gaming venues. Churchill is putting one establishment near the Tennessee Border (Turfway Park) and another at its Louisville-based track.

Governor Andy Beshear is a big proponent of preserving the state’s racing industry. Given how much historic racing machines help, Beshear has put his full support behind these slots-like games.

Horse Racing Is King in Kentucky

Most of Kentucky’s neighbors have legalized casinos. Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia don’t want their residents running over the borders to gamble in other states.

Kentucky, however, has yet to yield to casino gaming. It continues debating the matter while avoiding any concrete steps towards establishing legal casinos.

Horse racing is the main reason why gaming still remains outlawed in the Commonwealth. This industry has lots of power in Kentucky and expertly uses lobbying to remain in this position.

Kentucky Derby

Racetracks don’t want to compete with commercial casinos for the state’s gambling dollars. They’ve fought efforts to approve Vegas-style casinos over the years.

Of course, as explained above, they’re taking advantage of the slots pie themselves. Tracks feature the aforementioned historic horse racing.

These machines are similar to slots in tribal casinos, which use bingo-style results to determine wins (aka Class II gaming). Many tribal casinos are only allowed to offer poker and bingo, which is why they use bingo-style results as a workaround for slot machines.

The historic racing slots are quite similar to this. Rather than using a bingo game, though, they claim that slots players are betting on past horse races.

The Bluegrass State Has Taken Action Against Online Gambling

Kentucky has proven to have bite behind its anti-gambling policies. It made headlines in 2008 after seizing 141 online gambling domain names.

A KY district judge granted the order to seize the domains. This matter began when the Public Safety Cabinet demanded that the 141 gambling sites block access to Kentucky.

The cabinet threatened to take the domains if their requests weren’t granted. It took matters to a district court when their requests were ignored.

Beshear, who was governor back then too, supported the decision. He said that these sites “prey on Kentucky citizens, including our youth, and deprive the Commonwealth of millions of dollars in revenue.”

Beshear was particularly unhappy about gambling sites taking revenue that could instead go to the state’s racetracks.

Kentucky ended up losing the case after the Interactive Gaming Council took the matter to an appeals court. This legal battle lasted six years before finally ending in 2014.

Online Slots Continue Thriving in KY

The incident described above scared off many online casinos. Over the years, though, plenty of other gaming sites have chosen to serve Kentucky.

These “offshore” sites may not be licensed and regulated within the Commonwealth-State. Nevertheless, they operate without fear in KY.

Online Casino

Offshore gaming sites are based in countries like Antigua, Belize, and Costa Rica. Their jurisdictions give them lots of freedom when deciding which nations and territories to serve.

Some of these casinos are quite liberal regarding where they operate. They continue to provide real money and other games to Kentucky.

As a result, Kentuckians enjoy many options when it comes to online slots. They can choose from thousands of different mobile games across the industry. They’re also able to play for some of the largest jackpots in gaming.

State Lawmakers Legalize Historic Racing Machines in Kentucky

In an update to this post, Kentucky lawmakers voted to fully legalize historic horse racing games. These machines had been operating in a gray area, but they’re now fully legal.

The Kentucky House of Representatives approved the measure by a 55-38 vote. The State Senate passed the bill by a 22-15 margin. Gov. Beshear then signed the legislation to make it official.

The session prior to passing the bill was a heated one. Some conservative KY lawmakers argued that legalizing the machines would cause societal damage.

This bill ensures the survival of more than 3,600 historical racing machines across the state. It could pave the way for more of these slots-like games, given expansion by Churchill Downs.

The Family Foundation has vowed to fight the legislation. Their argument hinges on the state needing a constitutional amendment to allow historic horse racing.

Opponents of the machines can at least take solace in that lawmakers agree the taxes should be higher. Currently, the state only levies an 18% tax on the games, which is much lower than how much states tax gambling.

Conclusion

Kentucky doesn’t currently feature legal slot machines. However, it does offer both skill games and historic horse racing games.

Both are so similar to slot machines that you can barely tell the difference. In a sense, Kentucky does have legal slots—even if the games aren’t actually called this.

The historic racing machines were recently legalized at the time of this post. These games are close enough to slots. Therefore, Kentucky does offer legal slot machines in a sense—they’re just not labeled as such.