Children left unattended at Pennsylvania casinos is a big issue for the state. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) and casino operators have invested resources in preventing more cases. While one is too many, the numbers indicate that incidents are on pace to drop significantly from 2022.
Even though all guilty adults who face the board for leaving children unattended are placed on the PGCB’s Involuntary Exclusion List, which is a permanent ban from the casino, not all are charged criminally. The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) provided the parameters that must be met in order to charge patrons with a crime.
PA casinos see declining incidents of children left unattended
More than halfway through the year, we can get a good idea on how the state is managing unattended children left at Pennsylvania casinos. In 2022, the PGCB reported a total of 303 incidents with 486 involved minors left unattended at facilities.
The summer months are one of the biggest hurdles to overcome this year. June, July and August accounted for 27% of incidents in 2022, with July resulting in the most cases of any month with 57.
With joint efforts from the PGCB and PA casinos, June and July this year have been strong indicators of numbers beginning to slow. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of incidents:
2022 Incidents 2023 Incidents
PGCB Director of Communications, Doug Harbach, commented to PlayPennsylvania on the drop in cases:
“The casinos have certainly put resources into detecting and quickly mitigating incidents of unattended kids. This includes a significant amount of signage, beefed up security patrols and updated camera technology. Coupled with the PGCB’s Don’t Gamble with Kids campaign and our publicity on the punishment of parents being banned from all Pennsylvania casinos, we certainly hope this joint effort is resulting in more patrons thinking twice before choosing to leave children unattended in order to gamble.”
Harbach noted that there are critical warm months to get through. However, the PGCB and PA casinos are continuing to drive home the point: bringing children and leaving them unattended at casinos won’t be tolerated.
Valley Forge Casino invests nearly $1 million in prevention efforts
Harbach noted the cooperation the PGCB has received from Pennsylvania casinos to prevent incidents of patrons leaving children unattended.
Valley Forge Casino has had its share of incidents. General Manager and Vice President, Rob Bailey, told PlayPennsylvania that preventing unattended children cases is “one of our highest priorities.”
Over the last 18 months, Valley Forge Casino has invested $800,000 in programs and infrastructure aimed at addressing the issue. They include:
Comprehensive signage plan
Enhanced infrared camera coverage
Additional camera coverage in elevators and guest hallways, roving security
Additional law enforcement coverage when needed
Team Member awareness
Discipline for adults leaving child unattended at Pennsylvania casinos
While it has repeatedly issued announcements of no tolerance, the PGCB can only do so much. If an adult leaves a minor unattended at a PA casino, the PGCB places the patron on its public Involuntary Exclusion List. That person is then permanently banned from the casino.
Details of PA Vehicle Code
The PGCB cannot criminally charge patrons. That’s the job of the PSP.
There are two PA crime codes involving leaving minors unattended. The first is the PA Vehicle Code. The offense is defined as follows:
“A person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle may not permit a child under six years of age to remain unattended in the vehicle when the motor vehicle is out of the person’s sight and under circumstances which endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child.”
For criminal charges to be filed, all three occurrences must happen:
Vehicle is out of patron’s sight
Child under the age of six
Circumstances of endangered health, safety or welfare
The first bullet point is usually satisfied at PA casinos. If the child is under six years old, it is up to the officer’s discretion to determine the circumstances of the child.
Elements of endangering the welfare of children
The next statute is titled “Endangering Welfare of Children,” which reads:
“A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age, or a person that employs or supervises such a person, commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.”
This section would apply to all locations on the casino property such as a vehicle, the lobby, food court and hotel room.
In this case, it’s important to note that leaving a child unattended is not a crime in itself. To violate the crimes code, the element of “knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support” must be present. The PSP told PlayPennsylvania charging someone involves another step:
“As far as the decision to charge someone with an offense, several factors are considered to include the age of the child, where they are located unattended, and how long they have been left unattended.”
Recent cases of children unattended at PA casinos
The PGCB publicly reported five cases of patrons leaving minors on the premises of PA casinos in July.
Only one case resulted in files being charged after a customer left an 11-month old baby in a car for 42 minutes at Rivers Casino Philadelphia. The patron, whose initials are VL, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a third-degree felony. He was also charged with a second-degree misdemeanor of reckless endangerment of another person.
A couple, VB and OB, left their child alone 18 separate times for an approximate total of seven hours and 48 minutes at Mount Airy Casino. No charges were filed.
Hearing stories such as those is gut-wrenching. However, it’s good to see the PGCB and PA casinos come together to help prevent this behavior. A good amount of progress has been made, too.
Valley Forge Casino did not have any reported incidents made public. Bailey had this message for casino patrons:
“We make it very clear that there are age restrictions in many areas of our property, and that leaving children unattended is illegal and dangerous. If you violate the law, we will work with Law enforcement and Regulators to ensure that you are fully held accountable for your actions.”