Town Of McHenry Torn Over Definition Of ‘Gaming Parlors’

Written By Cole Rush on December 4, 2023 - Last Updated on December 5, 2023
Map of the town of McHenry, Ill. on a story about how the city's council is mulling what's the definition of a gaming parlor.

McHenry in Northeastern Illinois is a town struggling with “gaming parlors.”

The biggest issue? Figuring out exactly what a gaming parlor is.

While the McHenry City Council has said it is adamantly opposed to gaming parlors, council recently granted gaming licenses to businesses, allowing them to host video gaming terminals at their establishments.

Needless to say, this has created some confusion.

Council grants gaming licenses despite opposition to gaming parlors

In many Illinois markets, a gaming parlor is generally understood (or formally defined) as an establishment that makes most of its money by offering gambling on video gaming terminals (VGTs).

In McHenry, the issue was recently sparked when a small business sought both a liquor and a gaming license. Shelly’s Corned Beef filed for each license earlier this year. The City Council granted the liquor license but declined the gambling one in March.

The establishment’s owners pushed for the gaming license again in November. They told councilmembers that a licensing agreement with Corned Beef Factory out of Chicago requires a gaming license. They pointed out that they had renovated a space in the city that had been vacant for four years. That seemed to do the trick.

Council approved the gaming license in a 6-1 vote. Another establishment recently received a gaming license as well. The International House of Wine and Cheese was granted a gaming license in October in a 4-3 vote.

The search for clarification in McHenry and beyond

Following contentious licensing processes and tight votes, Assistant City Manager Monte Johnson started a larger discussion about the city’s licensing structure. The main point of confusion is what qualifies an establishment as a video gaming parlor (or gaming cafe) versus a restaurant or bar that offers video gaming.

Currently, McHenry seems intent on offering licenses only to establishments that make most of their money on non-gambling revenue streams. But that’s not codified in city policies. Instead, it leads to failed licensing attempts and close votes.

Stakeholders are seeking clearer stipulations and requirements in McHenry.

When Illinois first allowed restaurants and bars to offer video gaming, some businesses pounced at the opportunity. Since then, some towns and cities have struggled to control the expansion of gambling as more and more businesses request gaming licenses.

Decatur, for example, recently amended its city code to up the licensing fee and more strictly define which businesses are allowed to offer VGTs.

Other towns in Illinois, such as Downers Grove and Mundelein, are toying with the idea of allowing VGTs outside of restaurants.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayIllinois
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Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. Most of those words can be found in gambling publications such as PlayIllinois, iGaming Business, Gaming Today,,, ICE 365, and IGB North America. Cole also covers pop culture and books for and Cole has more than eight years of experience writing about gambling and entertainment.

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