Massachusetts officials and professionals are concerned about parents reportedly leaving children — some of them very young — at the state’s gaming operations so the adults can gamble.
WFXT TV reported this week 21 reports of adults leaving children unattended at the three Massachusetts casinos in an 18-month period. Several of the children were under 12 years old.
Children left unattended in any inappropriate location for them, including casinos, is naturally a concern,” Dave Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, told Casino.org.
The state police has a specialized Gaming Enforcement Unit which is led by Detective Lt. Brian Connors. It is responsible for enforcement at the state’s casinos and racetracks and works with casino security.
“… Each instance must be evaluated on its own facts and circumstances, and when necessary we seek criminal charges or notify the state Department of Children and Families so that they can become involved with the family,” Procopio added.
Instances at Casinos Are Disheartening
Marlene Warner, executive director at the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, told Casino.org that
“It’s disheartening to hear these stories, but it also isn’t shocking that it occurs.
“Problem gambling behavior is always a concern — and especially so when it involves children,” Warner added.
She explained that the parents’ activity at the casinos “doesn’t necessarily mean they have a gambling disorder, but it raises a huge flag. The signs and symptoms of gambling addiction can be complicated — but being preoccupied with gambling and neglecting family is not uncommon with those who struggle with addiction.”
Among the incidents highlighted by the TV station was one where a 6-year-old boy was wandering on the sixth floor of a casino hotel. The boy had “urinated his pants,” while his mother was gambling, the report said. He was alone in a hotel room for six hours.
Another parent left her 11-year-old son outside the Encore Boston Harbor for three hours. The child became hungry and approached a security officer.
In a statement to Casino.org, Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said that “leaving a minor unattended could result in very serious consequences, including the involvement of DCF — the Department of Children and Families.”
Also, anyone under the age of 21 is prevented from being in a gaming area. Children under the age of 16 must not be left unattended on casino property at any time, Driscoll warns.
“If you are going to the resort as a family to enjoy some of its entertainment offerings, especially MGM Springfield, then you should plan to enjoy that time as a family,” Driscoll advised. “If you are headed to the casino to gamble, then you should not bring your children to the property.”
Massachusetts Casino Requirements
The state’s gaming law requires casinos to establish protocols and internal controls to ensure the protection of minors, she added. Casinos need to remind players through signs and other outreach efforts about what is expected and required by law, Driscoll said. Casino employees receive training, too, and security officers watch out for children.
When asked for comment on these and other incidents, James Whelan, a gambling behavior expert who teaches at the University of Memphis, told Casino.org “Having 21 reported unattended children, and its relations to gambling, is hard to judge unless we have some comparison information, such as the number or children left unattended in shopping malls or in cars parked outside of a supermarket.
“The added issue for casinos is the length of time a patron is in the casino, when compared to a supermarket,” Whelan, who is co-director at the university’s Institute for Gambling Education and Research, added. “There is certainly a history of this happening in casinos and the casino should certainly have unattended children policies just like malls have unattended children policies.”
Las Vegas casinos were dealing with a similar issue a few decades ago when they promoted the region as a fun family vacation spot, Whelan recalled. “A number of the casinos had playrooms that the ended-up closing, when they discovered that it promoted unattended children,” Whelan said. “I believe that they found that some cases were cultural — how much are parents are supposed to be monitoring their children — and some were associated with other familial problems.”
There have been similar situations of unattended children at casinos in other states, too. These include Indiana and Pennsylvania.
“Bad parenting is sad and most definitely concerning,” Whelan added. “Deciding that the inattentive parent is a problem or disordered gambler requires a close look at their gambling and the harm it is causing.”