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November 17, 2022

Pennsylvania regulators urge parents not to leave kids unattended in casino parking lots as reports surge

The Gaming Control Board has reported 269 incidents of minors left in parking lots or hotel rooms this year

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Gaming Control Board Campaign Kaysha/Unsplash

As state regulators grapple with a surge in parents leaving children unattended in casino parking lots, the Gaming Control Board unleashed a campaign to raise awareness of the risks and consequences for children and adults.

As Pennsylvania grapples with a surge in reports of unattended children in parking lots near its casinos, the Gaming Control Board has unveiled a campaign to raise awareness of the harms and consequences of leaving children in order to gamble. 

On Thursday, state regulators launched "Don't Gamble With Kids" in order to help curb a nearly 60% spike in incidents of parents leaving their children alone while gambling. The agency's Bureau of Casino Compliance has seen 269 reports of 441 minors left unattended in casino parking lots or hotel rooms so far this year, 68 of which involved kids under 6 years old. 

This is up from 171 incidents involving 279 minors in 2021. In order to reduce the risk of harm to children, the Gaming Control Board's public service announcement and accompanying website hopes to help individuals understand what the consequences can be for the adult, and what individuals should do if they see a child alone in a casino parking lot — call 911 or contact the local casino to place a report. 

"More important than any liability faced by these adults... is the safety of these children," said Kevin O'Toole, executive director of the Gaming Control Board. "The welfare and safety of minors is at the heart of the Board's campaign and all adults should consider this before deciding to leave a child unattended." 

O'Toole said that the Gaming Control Board has seen incidents like this since 2006, but with the expansion of the gaming industry in Pennsylvania and more types of games available to play, reports of unattended children have risen dramatically, much to the concern of regulators. 

In October, the Gaming Control Board added eight individuals to its public exclusion list, which permanently bans them from gambling at any casinos in the state. 

One of them, a man at Harrah's Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in Chester, was banned from the state's casinos after leaving five children aged 3-11 years old in the parking lot for 25 minutes while he played table games. A woman left her 12-year-old child in the car outside of Harrah's for nearly an hour while she used the slot machines inside. 

At Valley Forge Casino Resort in Montgomery County, a man was added to the exclusion list after leaving a 12-year-old unattended in the car for eight minutes while waging a bet on the sportsbook. At Wind Creek Bethlehem Casino, a man was banned after leaving three preteen-aged children for 12 minutes while he observed table games. 

"We are hopeful this campaign will raise awareness not only for those who gamble and are responsible for children, but also for the gaming public who we hope will be more diligent in looking out for children at risk," said O'Toole. "Ultimately, we want everyone to understand the scope of this problem and know what to do if confronted with a situation in a parking lot, hotel, or elsewhere." 

Adult caregivers who leave a child unattended to enter a casino could face serious consequences, including lifetime bans from individual casinos, placement on the Gaming Control Board's public exclusion list that bars people from every casino in the state, possible criminal charges or investigation by the county's Department of Children and Youth Services. 

The Gaming Control Board is also concerned that those leaving their children alone to gamble may be exhibiting signs of a compulsive gambling problem. Individuals concerned about gambling habits can find more information about the state's resources through the "Don't Gamble With Kids" website.