While inside a warm casino, playing slot machines, a Pennsylvania woman’s small children, ages 2 years and 11 months, sat alone in a cold car at the Lady Luck Casino in Pennsylvania. She is not the only parent who left children unattended while they gambled.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which oversees all aspects of gambling in the state, has been tracking numbers since the start of 2021 and believes incidents of unattended children are increasing, so they are making efforts to stop it.
In the last 17 months, there have been 275 incidents spread among Pennsylvania’s 16 casinos, involving more than 400 children, Doug Harbach, the Gaming Commission's communication director, told The Epoch Times.
“Most of these occur with minors being left unattended in vehicles, whether that's in a surface parking lot or in a garage,” Harbach said. “Casinos have all stepped up to try to mitigate this issue. Some with some pretty broad plans, others adding on to the things that they were doing before.”
Penn National Gaming, which is working on a license renewal, has told the board it is installing high-definition infrared cameras that would be able to detect the heat signature of individuals that are locked in a vehicle, even at nighttime, Harbach said.
Casinos have security checking parking lots and they have added sternly worded signs in parking lots.
“They’ve ramped up a lot of their signage, and they've been very direct that leaving unattended children is not only not acceptable from a moral standpoint, they're also telling you that you face criminal charges if you do so. And a ban from not only that casino, but the board then can take action to put them on the Involuntary Exclusion List.”
It means they can't step on the property of a Pennsylvania casino. If they do, they will be arrested.
That is what happened to six adults at the June Gaming Commission Board meeting:
• As mentioned above, the mother of two children, ages 11 months and 2 years, was placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List after leaving them in a vehicle in the Lady Luck Casino parking lot. The children were left unattended for 9 minutes while their mother went inside, played a slot machine, and cashed out. It was about 66 degrees outside. The mother was charged with two counts each of misdemeanor endangering a child and two counts of summary leaving a child alone in a vehicle.
•The father of a girl, estimated to be between 6- to 8-years-old, was placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List after leaving her unattended in the lobby of Valley Forge Casino. The girl was unattended for 15 minutes while her father placed sports wagers. State Police responded but did not get the exact age of the girl. There were no charges.
•The uncle of a 10-year-old boy was placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List after casino security found the boy alone in a vehicle in the parking lot at Harrah's Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack. The boy was seen unattended for 8 minutes while his uncle placed sports wagers. It was around 40 degrees outside, and the car was not on nor being heated. There were no charges.
•The father of a 10-year-old child was placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List after leaving him in a vehicle in the Mount Airy Casino parking lot. The boy and a small dog were unattended for six hours during a violent storm, while the father gamed in the casino. The father purposely parked his car, which had darkened windows, at the back of the furthest lot from the facility. At the time it was dark, windy, raining, and around 42 degrees. The father left a key for the vehicle with the child. The casino was operating with minimum security at the time, according to discussion at the Gaming Commission Board. He was charged with endangering the welfare of children.
•The father of three children, ages 3, 5, and 12, was placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List after leaving them in a vehicle in the Valley Forge Casino parking lot. A casino worker noticed the father having a video call with children who appeared to be in a vehicle. Security was alerted and found the vehicle, which had dark tinted windows, and was left running. It was 38 degrees outside. The children were left unattended for 43 minutes. There were no charges.
•The mother of three children, ages 3, 4, and 12, was placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List after leaving them in a casino hotel room at Live! Casino Philadelphia. The children were left unattended for 94 minutes while the mother gamed in the casino. They were discovered when the 12-year-old called security and said they were in the room alone, without their mother. Police were called but the mother gathered her children and left before they arrived. There were no charges.
“They know it's wrong. They probably know it's illegal, but they do it anyway, and candidly, that's because many of these individuals probably also have an issue with problem gambling,” Harbach said. “That's something they could also address with our help.” Problem gamblers can ask to be self-banned, to prevent themselves from being allowed in casinos or playing online. Problem gamblers can call 1-800-Gambler to discuss additional options.
Harbach said the industry wants the public to understand this is a problem and appreciates and encourages all patrons who see unattended children to report them to security.