Exposing the Dark Side of Gambling Addiction

Children & Gambling: Victims of Abuse

By Annie Mueller
For Casino Watch Foundation

We all make statements about parenting that quickly become obsolete once we actually have children. "I will never let my child..." or "I will always... with my child." We may change our hard-and- fast rules of parenting, but through it all we hold on to the essentials: we love our children, we provide for them, we keep them safe. 

What could possibly so twist a parent's mind that those essentials would become non-essentials? Drugs and alcohol, mind-altering addictive influences, certainly produce an atmosphere of abuse. What else? Try a recreational pastime, a little harmless fun... an hour or two at the local casino. The lifestyle of addicted gamblers creates situations of abuse in gambling establishments and family homes all across the country.

Perhaps the most horrifying situations occur in the parking lots of the casinos. News channel ABC 7 of Chicago reported that from 2000 to 2003, there were 68 cases of unattended children at casinos in Illinois; in Indiana, 215 such cases from 1999 to 2003 (1). Children from as young as 10 days old are left in cars while their parents or caretakers go in the casinos "for a few minutes." Hours later the children still wait in the car, sometimes in extreme heat or cold, without food or water. Sometimes a security guard or delivery man might spot them and get help. Other times they are not discovered until it is too late, as in the case of the 10-day-old baby girl who died of suffocation while her mom played video poker (2).

Child abuse provoked by gambling addiction is not limited to the casino parking lot. Addicted parents will routinely spend the money needed for their children's welfare to support their own gambling habits. Add to the physical neglect the emotional and psychological impact of living with a parent who is a gambling addict, and the result is severe. Dr. Peter Andrew Sacco states that "[c]hildren... often times perceive themselves as a contributing factor toward their parent’s miserable moods. Addictions have a powerful influence on a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence" (3). The Missouri Department of Mental Health reports that not only are children of compulsive gamblers more likely to suffer abuse, but children of problem gamblers are also "at a higher risk of developing health threatening behaviors, including alcohol and drug abuse, problem gambling, eating disorders, depression, and suicide" (4).

Child abandonment and neglect is sickening, but all the more so in these cases because the parents are not killers, criminals, or in many cases, even substance abusers. They are, for the most part, normal people who follow the lure of the casino and become enslaved to it, so much so that they not only gamble with their money, but also their children's very lives.

1. ABC Channel 7, Chicago, IL. "Through a freedom of information request, ABC7 News has obtained the most recent statistics on unattended children at casinos. The Illinois Gaming Board says there have been 68 such cases since 2000. In Indiana, there are many more -- 215 since 1999. Horseshoe Casino in Hammond has reported 33 children left unattended -- the highest number in our area. The Empress in Joliet follows with 19 incidents in the past three years. Child welfare experts say it is abuse and should be prosecuted." 15 May 2003. From People Against A Casino Town website; accessed 02 October 2007. http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=dcmv4jrt_55f5rwsc&hl=en 2. Freeman, Alan. "South Carolina eliminated VLTs after baby died as mom gambled." For the Globe and Mail. 27 June 2005. http://south-carolina-news.newslib.com/story/106-2026104/ The full text of this article, as well as excerpts from many other casino-related child abandonment and abuse cases, is available at the website of People Against A Casino Town, Oregon: http://www.pactoregon.org/ 3. Sacco, Peter Andrew, Ph.D. "Children and Gambling Addictions: Tomorrow's Next Problem Gambler!" American Chronicle. 16 February 2007. http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=20854 4. Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. http://www.dmh.mo.gov/ada/facts/gambling.htm