As with any other business, getting a licensed video gaming establishment in Illinois off the ground requires an investment. But when you’re starting with little more than a dream to get into this new and growing industry, the investment involved is not only one of funds, but also of time and education. You’ll be learning about the ins and outs of video gaming as you’re jumping through the regulatory hoops, and also doing the typical tasks associated with starting a new business — from finding the best possible location to hiring your staff.
To help you navigate this process, Accel Entertainment tapped in to its internal experts to put together a guide that lays out many of the key steps involved in creating a successful video gaming business from the ground up.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and if you’re interested in starting a new business for the purpose of video gaming, we recommend that you do your own research into these matters and potentially hire legal counsel or obtain other advice/guidance in going through this process. Finally, this article is not intended to convey legal advice or to make any guarantees about this process.
As you’re looking at potential locations to purchase or lease for your new business venture, it is critical to contact the local regulatory authorities to find out if they allow video gaming in the municipality, and whether they have on-premise liquor/pouring licenses and video gaming licenses available. (Note: You must have a license which permits you to pour/serve alcohol for consumption on your premises in order to qualify for a video gaming license.) Some municipalities and counties have strict allotments of the licenses they can issue in each of these categories. If they’ve already reached the limit for either, it might be impossible to start a video gaming business in your area, meaning you might have to broaden your search for locations.
Also, while this might not be the case for every municipality or other local government entity, there’s a decent chance they’ll inquire about the physical location of your new business. You should probably have somewhere in mind when you go to the city clerk.
Select Your Terminal Operator
Once you’ve determined that local liquor and local video gaming licenses are available and you’ll qualify for both, you can begin exploring Terminal Operators. At the most basic level, these are companies that provide video gaming terminals (or VGTs) and other equipment to licensed establishments. But some — Accel being among them — also offer a variety of ancillary services, from assisting with the process of getting your liquor license to helping you figure out the optimal location for your business.
Obtain Your State and Local Liquor Licenses
Once you’ve selected your Terminal Operator, you’ll want to start applying for liquor licenses at the state and local level. The current annual fee to get and maintain the standard retail Illinois liquor license is $750. Fees vary at the municipal level, but typically fall in the range of $100-300 (we cannot guarantee that will be the case in every city, so make sure to check with your municipality).
Around this time, you should also be looking into getting dram shop insurance (that is, liquor liability coverage) and U.S. Department of Justice registration for your VGTs. Again, some Terminal Operators can help you figure all of this out.
Apply for Your State and Local Video Gaming Licenses
You’ve picked a Terminal Operator. You’ve got a location. Your liquor licenses are approved. It’s time to get your Illinois Gaming Board and local video gaming licenses (your Terminal Operator can help answer any questions you might have and can help walk you through the actual application). Part of the licensing process involves a background check and finger printing for you and other owners. Learn more about that here.
Finalize Layout and Décor
At this point, your future business should be taking on tangible qualities. You’ve got a location, and contractors are doing all of the essential electrical, plumbing and other work to make it a functional space. However, you still have to determine where the VGTs, tables, chairs and various other equipment will go, as well as the overall appearance of your establishment. What color scheme will you use? What will your logo and signs look like? Where are the best spots for your video gambling machines? If you’re opening a bar or restaurant, will you have a dedicated video gaming space?
Fortunately, this is an area where Accel (and possibly other Terminal Operators) can help. The company employs experts in gambling behaviors who know the best ways to attract patrons and get them to play your machines, based on thousands of hours of observation and extensive customer data.
Open Your Business!
The final step seems simple and straightforward, but it’s not as easy as opening your doors to customers. This phase should also include a marketing push, with promotions that include word-of-mouth, social media and perhaps even paid advertising.
This entire process could take as little as six months if new owners are generally business savvy and have all their ducks in a row, and there are no unexpected obstacles along the way. It typically takes around a year to get a video gaming business up and running from scratch with new inexperienced owners.
Special thanks to Jonathan Stachewicz and Geno Giuntoli for their expertise and knowledge on this topic!