The problem of gamblers leaving children unattended at PA casinos remains top of mind with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. At the most recent meeting on March 22, the board added two more individuals to the Involuntary Exclusion List for leaving children alone in cars.

In 2022, the PGCB reported the highest number of incidents yet. Last year, there were 303 incidents of children left unattended while their guardian gambled at a Pennsylvania casino. Those incidents involved 486 minors.

The board updated the number of incidents that have occurred since the beginning of 2022. Through February 2023, they’ve recorded 331 incidents involving 522 minors. That’s 28 incidents involving 36 kids so far this year.

Former teacher hopes to return to job after incident

A previous school teacher, AT, left her 14-month-old unattended in her locked car at Valley Forge Casino on two occasions on the same day in 2021. AT left the child alone for 5 minutes, while she attempted to enter the casino and spoke on the phone outside the casino. Then, the child was left for 4 minutes while AT entered the casino and made an in-person deposit into her FanDuel Sportsbook online gaming account.

AT was met by a state trooper and casino security when she returned to her car. No criminal charges were filed.

The accused attended the hearing to plead her case, and requested lenience. She added that being on the Involuntary Exclusion List could be damaging to her reputation and career. She plans to return to teaching when her own kids reach school-age.

AT said she was taking advantage of a promotion that required an in-person deposit, and that she has no desire to gamble in the casino.

PGCB has zero tolerance for leaving children unattended at PA casinos

The Office of Hearings and Appeals recommended that AT be placed on the list, with an exclusion to permit her to petition for removal from the list after one year. At Wednesday’s meeting, the board rejected that idea, and simply voted to add AT to the list.

Chair of the board, Denise Smyler, said, “We are not inclined to agree with the Hearing Office’s recommendation.” She added, “You can always petition to come off the list; it doesn’t mean we’ll grant it.”

While the PGCB showed sympathy for AT and her remorse, it took a hard line by not softening the consequences. The board continues to take a zero-tolerance approach on the issue.

However, in a public comment segment of the meeting, former State Senate candidate Eric Epstein pointed out that casinos don’t pursue criminal charges for the offenses consistently. According to Epstein’s testimony, casinos take legal action against the offender only half of the time.

Are unattended child incidents declining this year?

In a more recent incident, a male patron, PP, left a 12-year-old in a running car at Presque Isle Downs. The child was left for 10 minutes while PP placed wagers at the sportsbook. The offender was not evicted from the property, and no criminal charges were filed. The board placed PP on the Involuntary Exclusion List at the latest meeting.

Back in January, the board added four individuals to the Involuntary Exclusion List for leaving children alone. Those left unattended included an infant, that was left in a food court with other children.

The reduction in the number of individuals banned over the last month could be a sign that increased awareness messaging is working.

As one board member pointed out, casinos now have signage in parking lots and garages warning patrons against leaving kids alone. In addition, the board launched an awareness campaign last year to combat the issue.

Many Pennsylvanians have seen the TV and radio PSAs, printed material and social media posts bringing attention to the issue. A website for the Don’t Gamble with Kids campaign serves as an awareness and resource hub, as well.

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