PA Casinos Dealing With Record Numbers of Unattended Children Left In Cars

Written By Chris Imperiale on October 27, 2022
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While some measures have been taken to prevent the problem of kids being left behind in cars at casinos, it’s clear this is still a massive issue for Pennsylvania casinos.

At the latest meeting conducted by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), eight different individuals were placed on the state’s Involuntary Exclusion List after leaving a total of 16 children behind in cars when going to gamble.

This continues to be an ongoing obstacle for PA casinos and local police authorities, as the number of incidents keeps rising.

For those unaware, it is illegal to park your car at a casino and leave your kids inside while you enter the establishment to gamble. Regardless of the specifics, the police get notified and handle the situation quickly to ensure the safety of the children. Culprits sometimes face legal criminal charges, and usually get some type of ban from that casino.

Let’s dive deeper into this concern at PA casinos and how the police, casinos and PGCB are attempting to stop this horrible trend.

Kids left in cars at PA casinos a persistent problem

In the latest monthly board meeting held on Oct. 19 by the PGCB, eight new casino patrons got sent to the Involuntary Exclusion List. The list intends to prevent anyone on it from accessing any gambling venue within the state. All members committed some type of gambling-related offense.

The following individuals find themselves on this list for recently leaving a child behind in a car by themselves. The following shows the details of each case:

Involuntary Exclusion List additions

  • A male guest, initialed RJ, left five total kids unattended (aged 3 to 11) at Harrah’s Philadelphia for 25 minutes. He was criminally charged and plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children. RJ received two years of probation and a permanent ban from Harrah’s.
  • A female guest, SU, left her nine-year-old son in her car at the Hollywood Casino at Penn National parking garage. He was there alone for around 30 minutes. She got charged with criminal charges from the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and is evicted from Hollywood for one year.
  • A female guest, IM, left her 12-year-old child unattended at Harrah’s Philadelphia for 57 minutes. She didn’t see criminal charges, but is permanently evicted from this PA casino.
  • A male guest, LR, left his two-year-old in the car while placing sports wagers at the Presque Isle Downs Casino for 32 minutes. He received a charge for a misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child, in addition to an eviction from the casino for one year.
  • A male guest, JW, left his 12-year-old in his vehicle at the Valley Forge Casino Resort parking lot. They were there for eight minutes. He didn’t get charged formally, but is banned from the establishment permanently.
  • A male guest, SR, left three kids between the ages of 10 and 13 in his car when visiting the Wind Creek Bethlehem Casino for 12 minutes. This casino permanently evicted him.
  • A male guest, GW, left his eight-year-old alone in a taxi service vehicle at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh for around 20 minutes. The gambling location also evicted him, despite no criminal charges.
  • A male guest, ABR, left his three children all under the age of 10 in an unattended car when gaming at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh for approximately 16 minutes. He earned a lifetime ban from the casino.

Dangers of leaving kids in cars

One of the biggest concerns around this situation is that it keeps happening at casinos throughout the state. It’s possible that a lot of the offenders don’t realize that what they’re doing is in fact against the law.

That said, it doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking to know that there are plenty of potential dangers when leaving children alone in a car. The state features lots of different groups that advocate for the rights of children, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Among the top concerns for leaving kids unattended in these cars is exposure to the weather conditions outside. Heatstroke in the summer months, and hypothermia in the winter occur far too often.

The PA Department of Health notes that heatstroke is actually the leading cause of vehicle-related deaths for children outside of crashes.

So even though PA casino locations are in the clear regarding problems with heat at the moment, the winter months are quickly approaching. Besides the colder temperatures potentially affecting the kids inside cars, frost on the windows creates more obstructions for casino security on the lookout for these children.

Number of kids left in cars at PA casinos reaches record highs in 2022

According to the PGCB, 26 different individuals have already been placed on the list this year for leaving their kids unattended in a car. This is double the number of people for all of last year (13 total), although 2021 still included certain Covid restrictions at casinos.

The previous yearly high was 19 in 2020, a year that saw extended Covid closures for most PA casinos.

Through Oct. 20 of this year, the PSP recorded 194 total incidents of unattended children at PA casinos. Of these, there were 79 instances where the kids were left alone in the car.

Despite the fact that you might not see criminal charges for doing this, offenders are likely to receive some type of ban from the casino. The duration typically ranges from one year to a full ban from the establishment for life. Offenders also land on the PGCB’s involuntary exclusion list. They can apply for removal from the list in five years.

The individual casino management, along with the PGCB, make these decisions without any input from the PSP.

Consequences for adults leaving kids behind to gamble

Of course, the adults who make the mistake of neglecting their children in these situations face serious penalties. According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the majority of cases at casinos result in one of two potential crime violations.

The first involves Title 75 of the PA Vehicle Code, which entails leaving an unattended child in a motor vehicle. In order for this to become relevant, the kid left in the car must be under the age of six. If they fall into that category, then the two other requirements state that the child is out of their guardian’s sight, as well as in circumstances that can endanger their health or safety.

Police officers responding to the call are in charge of determining the extent of the child’s lack of welfare. Since the statute doesn’t define what exactly constitutes endangerment, it’s up to officers’ discretion and common sense.

The other potential legal violation files under Title 18 of the PA Crimes Code for strictly endangering the welfare of children. This one doesn’t necessarily need to include a car, and actually applies to every location on a casino property like the hotel rooms, food court and lobby.

Even though the act of leaving a child unattended is not in itself a crime, this becomes a subjective decision by law enforcement. Factors they consider consist of the child’s age, where they are located while unattended and for how long.

Sometimes, they consult the local District Attorney’s Office to rule on the matter.

Casinos take extra caution to help unattended children

It seems the Keystone State’s casinos must address this issue more formally if it’s ever going to stop.

While the PGCB makes recommendations and inspects each casino’s security regulations, they don’t make specific state-wide requirements. Each PA casino sets its own protocols for exactly how to secure both the inside and outside of the facility.

Some casino locations in the state already took their prevention efforts to the next level. Although most of them feature signage around the parking lots and by elevators, it’s quite clear that this isn’t enough.

Places like Valley Forge Casino Resort chose to install special infrared cameras a year ago to help assist in cracking down on this issue. The cameras were part of a thorough six-part plan that cost around $776,000 for the property.

The expensive, 4K cameras detect the heat a person makes while inside the car. This notifies security that there is someone in the car. Valley Forge is the first to bring this technology to the table in the state. However, the PGCB noted that a number of casinos plan to invest in infrared cameras going forward.

Some PA casinos also give their guests alternate ways to make sure this isn’t a problem. At Wind Creek Casino Bethlehem, gamblers can drop their kids off at the child care center, Kids Quest. It’s possible that more gaming locations around the state consider this option with so many children currently affected.

Then, there’s always the ability to play casino games or bet on sports without needing a retail casino at all. Pennsylvania offers dozens of legal online betting options, meaning there’s no need to bring your kids to the casino ever.

Gambling addiction resources available in PA

For those struggling with gambling addiction in Pennsylvania, there is help available including the following resources:

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Chris Imperiale

Chris Imperiale is currently the managing editor of Catena Media's US online lottery site, PlayiLottery. He used to be the Managing Editor of PlayPennsylvania, covering legal sports betting and casino gambling in Pennsylvania and the Northeast US. He has a journalism degree from Rutgers University and was formerly on staff at Bleacher Report.

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