Before leaving your kid alone in a car to gamble at a casino, consider this

The Morning Call
Before leaving your kid alone in a car to gamble at a casino, consider this
Wild Casino

Eight people were banned from Pennsylvania casinos on Wednesday after authorities said they left children unattended in vehicles while they went inside.

The bans, one of which stemmed from a poor parenting incident at Wind Creek Bethlehem, sadly are just the latest.

This is a big problem, and there’s no excuse for it.

Since the beginning of last year, nearly 700 kids were left alone on casino properties in 425 incidents. Most involved kids being left in vehicles.

Gambling can be an addiction. But parents desperate to gamble don’t have to risk the safety of their children by leaving them alone in a car, even for just a few minutes, while they run inside to play blackjack, pull a few slots or bet on football.

Gamblers don’t have to drive to a casino to play cards, play slots or place sports wagers. They can do all of that from home, on their phone or computer.

There are 14 online sports wagering options and 22 online casino game sites licensed in Pennsylvania. Many of them, such as FanDuel and DraftKings, offer both sports and casino gaming.

It’s hard to imagine people don’t know that. Television ads for online gaming sites are almost as frequent and annoying as .

It’s also hard to imagine that people don’t recognize there’s a good chance they will get in trouble, and possibly be arrested, for leaving their kids unattended at a casino.

Casinos have extensive security and surveillance. Casinos also thankfully have many civic-minded patrons who are willing to report when they see kids in a car by themselves.

That’s how some pathetic parents get caught. And some have ended up in jail or on probation after authorities charged them with child endangerment.

Earlier this year, The Morning Call’s Evan Jones reported how unattended children have been a headache for Pennsylvania’s gaming industry since the state’s first casino opened in 2006.

From 2018 to 2021, there were 147 incidents at Wind Creek involving 268 children. The children were between 2 months and 17 years old. Some were left alone for more than nine hours.

Wind Creek told the Pennsylvania Gaming Board in May it would spend more than $4 million on patrols to look for children in parking areas, the outlet mall and food court.

Wind Creek has posted warnings in the parking garage and other areas, and on hotel room information, about leaving children unattended.

Some parents still don’t care.

One of the people banned from state casinos Wednesday was a Brooklyn man who left three children, ages 13, 12 and 10, alone in a vehicle in the Wind Creek Bethlehem parking lot last October.

The children were unattended for 12 minutes. A patron saw them and notified casino security, according to Gaming Control Board documents.

Security found the children eating and playing video games. The vehicle’s windows were partially lowered. Criminal charges were not filed.

Also Wednesday, the board banned an Allentown man who left five children in a vehicle at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in September 2021. Board documents say the vehicle was left running with the doors unlocked.

The children, ages 3 to 11, were alone for 20 minutes before security discovered them. The man was found playing craps. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to child endangerment and was sentenced to up to two years of probation, according to board documents.

A third ban issued Wednesday involved an especially disturbing scenario at Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie in September 2021.

According to board documents, a man left a 2-year-old child in a vehicle while placing a sports wager. After being confronted by police and security, he left the child alone again two more times that same day to go back inside the casino.

Every casino in Pennsylvania tries to prevent such scenarios, but they still are occurring “in unacceptable numbers,” Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach told me Thursday.

He told me the board is considering launching a statewide awareness campaign “so the gaming public is more aware and can assist in identifying instances where children are left unattended.”

Any effort to keep kids safe is welcome. But I doubt this problem can be solved until every parent starts acting like an adult.

Too many parents care more about getting their gambling fix than they do about their kids. That’s sad.

Every gambler who leaves a child alone in a car at a casino should face criminal charges. There should be no exceptions.

Too much can go wrong. I’m not aware of any tragedies at casinos in Pennsylvania, but unattended children have suffered at casinos elsewhere.

In 1997, a 10-day-old girl died in a car while her mother gambled for more than seven hours in South Carolina. The car’s windows were closed and the temperature outside reached the mid-90s.

In 1998, a 3-year-old boy died in a hot van while his nanny played video poker for five hours in Louisiana.

If you have a gambling problem, or know someone who does, help can be obtained from the PA Gambling Addiction hotline, 1-800-GAMBLER.