Whether you’re preparing to add video gambling to your establishment or you already have it, one regulatory hoop that you’ll have to jump through every year is registering Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). As explained in the Gambling Devices Act of 1962, registration is required for, among other things, the use of or making available for use by others, gambling devices.
Naturally, this can prompt questions among business owners who are new to video gaming, which is why we put together this list of answers to frequently asked questions about this topic.
Q: Do I have to get “licensed” by the DOJ?
A: No. To be clear, this isn’t the federal equivalent of obtaining a license from the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) or your county or municipality. This is registration by a business involved in the “manufacturing, repairing, reconditioning, buying, selling, leasing, using, or making available for use by others” of gambling devices. That means it’s a requirement for both licensed establishments and licensed Terminal Operators. And it’s mandatory across the United States, not just in Illinois.
However, DOJ registration is one of the steps involved in becoming a licensed establishment in Illinois. When IGB agents come for an initial site inspection of a bar, restaurant or other business that’s seeking its video gaming license, they’ll need to see several different pieces of documentation. One of those is proof of DOJ registration, even though those businesses won’t have video gaming machines on the premises at the time of the site inspection.
Q: When do I have to register with the DOJ, and how long does it take?
A: If you don’t have video gaming yet and are seeking to become a licensed establishment, there’s no time like the present. As noted above, an IGB agent will need to see proof of DOJ registration before moving you along in the licensing process. And for the most part, the DOJ will be able to approve your application within a week of it being submitted.
However, all DOJ registrations are renewed every year at the end of the year. So as you can imagine, beginning on December 1, the DOJ is swamped with applications and approval could take as long as six weeks (though it also could be significantly shorter).
As for the application itself, it shouldn’t take longer than 10-15 minutes to fill out once you know what you’re doing.
Q: What happens if I don’t register?
A: You could be subject to a substantial fine from the IGB if a gaming agent discovers your registration has lapsed. And according to the DOJ, failing to register could involve criminal penalties, including fines up to $5,000, imprisonment up to two years, and seizure of any and all gambling devices on the premises.
Q: Okay, so how much does DOJ registration cost?
A: Good news — it’s free!
Q: To whom can I go to for help with all this?
A: Not the DOJ. On its website, it states, “The Department of Justice will not render advisory opinions as to whether specific devices are covered by the statute, nor will it undertake to answer any inquiries relating to specific situations.”
Some Terminal Operators — Accel Entertainment being one of them — will offer to handle DOJ registration for you as part of their service agreement, even before you get your video gaming operation off the ground. They’re generally used to filling out and submitting applications for both themselves and other customers and it saves you a bit of time and stress. (One caveat here: If a Terminal Operator tells you it will take care of DOJ registration but fails to do so, you’re still on the hook for the penalties.) Otherwise, you should consult an attorney who understands gambling law if you have additional questions about the process.