If you’ve ever driven down University Drive or McDonald Street, you’ve probably seen the signs. And maybe you’ve wondered what really goes on at one of McKinney’s “game rooms.”
You’re not alone.
McKinney’s city council and police department want to know more about what happens behind those doors and blacked-out windows, too.
Earlier this week, a 22-page ordinance detailing tighter regulations on McKinney’s game rooms was submitted to the city council, at the request of Mayor Brian Loughmiller and Mayor Pro Tem Travis Ussery. The council was scheduled to vote on the ordinance during Tuesday’s council meeting, but after a brief discussion at Monday’s council work session, the council decided table Tuesday’s vote indefinitely.
The city’s attorney, Mark Houser, provided the council with a detailed list of all of their available regulatory options in the ordinance. Loughmiller suggested that the council shouldn’t take any action until they have more time to review the issue and the city’s legal options.
According to McKinney Assistant Chief of Police Randy Roland, there are about a dozen “game rooms” currently operating in McKinney. “They (the game rooms) are supposed to be amusement centers, like Dave & Busters and Chuck E. Cheese,” Roland told TownSquareBuzz.com. “But that’s not what’s happening in some cases.”
If you’ve never been inside of a game room, here’s what you might find: gaming machines called “eight-liners.”
According to the proposed ordinance, an “eight-liner” machine is defined as “a coin-operated electronic gaming machine that resembles a slot machine. Depending on the type of machine, a player ‘wins’ if a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row of objects line up. The machines come in a number of different varieties, themes, or formats.”
These machines are allowed by the State of Texas as long as the payout is not greater than five times the cost to play. The payouts are not to be made in cash. “If it costs a dollar to play, you can win a $5 something, like a gift card, etc.,” Roland said.
Roland said that the McKinney police have found “a couple game rooms recently” that are paying out in cash. “The majority of the game rooms we have in the city are for entertainment purposes,” Roland said. “What we can’t have is these quasi-casinos offering cash payouts. They’re ripe to have someone rob them of this cash.”
“What we can’t have is these quasi-casinos offering cash payouts.” – McKinney Assistant Chief of Police Randy Roland
Recently, one of McKinney’s game rooms was the target of an attempted robbery. The attempted robbery took place on Dec. 5 at the 777 Game Room, located at 803 N. McDonald St.
“It needs to be about the amusement,” Roland said about the game rooms. “But there are about a dozen permanent game rooms in McKinney and most operate just like a casino. They don’t want you to know that you’ve been in there for 3 hours. They’ll bring you a Coke, popcorn or even a hot dog. None of them have bright lights or windows. They want you to focus on the machine in front of you because it’s taking your money and that’s how they get paid.”
According to Roland, there’s one game room in McKinney that “runs the best business of any of them.” That business is Lucky’s, located at 210 W. University. Roland said Lucky’s follows all of the rules and abides by every law.
Lucky’s has been open since 1999 and is owned and operated by Derick Barch. Barch calls himself “not a big proponent of gambling” and says that Lucky’s is simply “trying to provide some entertainment.”
Barch told TSB that his clientele is “mostly married couples” and that the average Lucky’s customer is a woman between 30 and 70 years of age.
Lucky’s sits in the back corner of a shopping center, behind a NAPA Auto Parts Store and Jim’s Pizza. The windows have blinds but the blinds are open. It’s dark in there but you can still tell that it’s daylight outside. The games are set in rows, spread apart from each other. Barch said that’s done on purpose. “Ladies will say this is ‘my time’ when they come in,” he said. “Some of these ladies are friends and they’ll come in here and gossip. But sometimes, someone wants to go off and be by themselves and they can do that here.”
Barch said that his games operate on “player cards” and that they never pay out in cash. “We pay out in Visa gift cards and we don’t do cash replays either,” Barch said.
Barch said that he always takes precautions to protect his customers, including locking the doors at night. “If I or one of my staff doesn’t know the person, then we don’t let them in,” he said. “One drunk could destroy my business. A 60-year-old woman doesn’t want to be around that.”
Barch said that in his 14 years of business, “I don’t think there’s one time when we’ve had to call the police.”
Barch said that he thoroughly read the 22-page ordinance that the council was considering and didn’t have any issue with much of what was proposed. The ordinance had provisions restricting the location of game rooms, designating that no game room could be within 1,000 feet of any church, school, daycare, hospital or any other game room. The ordinance also stated that no game room could serve alcohol.
Barch said those restrictions are fine with him. Lucky’s does not currently serve alcohol. One issue Barch had with the time restrictions. The ordinance proposed that game rooms be allowed to be open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to midnight the weekends.
Lucky’s is open from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. during the week and 24 hours a day on the weekends. “Not everybody works 9-5,” Barch said. “And sometimes people want to come in and wind down before they go home. Maybe they’re not a drinker and don’t want to go to a bar. Where else are you going to go at midnight? So they can come in here, play some games, not be bothered, and have a good time.”
Roland said that there are other game rooms in McKinney that don’t operate like Lucky’s. “You can get a 70”-inch TV or a couch or something crazy like that in some of these places,” Roland said. “We want them to be more about amusement and less about the big win.”
Roland said that there are other cities in the area that are tightening their regulations on game rooms and wants McKinney to do the same. “When other cities around the metroplex tighten the restrictions on these places, we could get flooded with new ones,” Roland said. “We don’t want the proliferation of these things everywhere.”
During Monday’s work session, Mayor Loughmiller said that the council would take a look at all the provisions listed in the proposed ordinance and address the issue soon. “I’d rather get us to the point to where we have some agreement before we move forward on this,” Mayor Loughmiller said to his fellow council members on Monday. “I want to make sure we’re not restricting law-abiding businesses.”
Barch said he’s used to the government increasing regulations on his business. He’s seen it a lot in 14 years. “They’ll make changes and we’ll adjust how we do things, he said. “It’s a good business. There’s a marketplace for this. When I opened in August of 1999, I was just hoping to stay open until Christmas. But we’ve been here for 14 years, and we’ll be here as long as we can be.”