The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has a silly solution to a serious problem.
Numerous customers of local casinos continue to leave children locked in their cars while they go inside and gamble.
How does the Gambling Commission plan to tackle this life and death problem? With public service announcements. Ads on TV, radio and social media carry the following message: “Do not gamble with children”. There’s even a website.
Is that the best the Gambling Control Board members – who get paid $145,000 a year for meeting once or twice a month – could come up with?
Any parent or guardian who leaves a child in the car to go play — sometimes for hours — likely has a serious addiction problem. Showing some ads is unlikely to change their behavior.
» READ MORE: Pennsylvania launches crackdown on misguided parents after spike in kids left alone in casino parking lots
What’s even more worrying is that this isn’t a new problem. It has been held in casinos across the country and throughout Pennsylvania for years. Several children have died. A woman was jailed after her 5-year-old grandson died in a hot car while gambling at an Oklahoma casino.
In Pennsylvania, gamblers began leaving children unattended shortly after the first casino opened in 2006.
A law has been passed making it illegal to leave children in cars. Players can be arrested, fined and banned from the casino. Casinos added signs and patrols in parking lots. Last year, the Valley Forge casino installed infrared cameras to detect children in cars after 22 children were left unattended there.
None of these efforts have solved the problem. In fact, the number of children left unattended in Pennsylvania casinos is up 60% this year compared to 2021. A total of 269 incidents involving 441 minors were registered.
The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the adult for leaving the child alone. No doubt the adult is responsible. But the casinos and the state have some responsibility for the gambling addiction monster they created.
Led by former Gov. Ed Rendell, elected officials—encouraged by an army of lobbyists and donors—enabled Pennsylvania to become the second largest casino market in the country after Las Vegas. Not only has the state legalized casinos, but it is a willing and eager partner in this endeavor, receiving 54% of all slot machine revenue.
Unlike Las Vegas, which has at least built a thriving tourism and entertainment industry around its gambling, Pennsylvania’s casinos cater mostly to local gamblers, including many elderly people on regular incomes.
» READ MORE: Valley Forge Casino steps up prosecution against players for leaving children in cars
The gambling industry argues that only 2% to 3% of the adult population suffers from addiction. But this number is misleading as most of the population does not visit a casino.
The real question is what percentage of casino customers have a gambling problem. Studies show that 30% to 60% of slot machine revenue comes from problem gamblers. In fact, many local players visit casinos an average of three to four times a week.
In fact, the business model depends on addiction.
As such, casinos and the state have some responsibility as enablers of this addiction. Casinos are not passive businesses. They aggressively market their customers, offering reward points, discounted meals, and free play coupons.
Even more insidious, modern slot machines are sophisticated computers designed to be addictive. Once someone is addicted, there’s even a term for what comes next. It’s called Play to Extinction.
Rather than cracking down on gamblers who leave children in cars — or using pithy puns in questionable ad campaigns — the state should do more to help them and other problem gamblers.
Children left in cars is just one of many disadvantages caused by casinos. Studies show that casinos lead to more crime, suicides and bankruptcies. Other social ills from problem gambling include higher rates of divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse and depression.
Pennsylvania is already one of the most addicted states. However, the urge to add more mini-casinos, online gambling and sports betting will lead to more addiction.
Public announcements will not stop the social ills unleashed by ruthless government policies.