25 Investigates: Young children left unattended while parents gamble at Massachusetts casinos

EVERETT, Mass. — Michael Minichello lives across the street from the bright lights of Encore Boston Harbor.

“My 5 year old always wants to come over,” Minichello said one night walking to the casino. “There’s really nothing for them to do here.”

Other parents may feel differently.

25 Investigates found 21 reports of adults leaving children unattended at the three Massachusetts casinos in 18 months, according to records from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and State Police. Ten of those incidents were reported during Encore Boston Harbor’s first six months of business. The reports show many of the children involved were under the age of 12.

In one incident, a 6-year-old boy was found wandering the sixth floor of the hotel. The boy had “urinated his pants,” and told security “his mother was in the casino,” the report said. Investigators later determined he was left alone in the room for six hours.

“This is par for the course with a casino,” said Marlene Warner, executive director at the Mass Council on Compulsive Gambling.

“No, I don’t think this is normal behavior,” Warner said. “Leaving your six-year-old unattended in a hotel room for hours on end? You run down the hall for ice, that’s normal. Leaving someone for hours is not normal.”

Warner said preoccupation or being too distracted to focus on your children, is a warning sign for a potential gambling addiction.

“It’s a playground for adults whether they have a gambling problem or not, and I think often times responsibilities are thrown aside. Unfortunately, sometimes I think that means care for their children," Warner said.

In August, another mother left her 11-year-old son outside Encore on the Harborwalk for three hours. The child eventually stopped a security guard because he was hungry, the report said.

At Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, a mother left her child in the parking garage for more than two hours while she was inside playing slots. The report said the child was found alone in the car after 2 a.m.

Most families were escorted off the property after they were reunited. Mass State Police Det. Lt. Brian Connors said few cases resulted in criminal charges.

“There are tiers we can elevate this to, including involving the Department of Children and Families, and we often do that,” Connors said.

Since the summer of 2018, DCF was called at least four times for 'unattended child’ cases at the three casinos, according to a Gaming Commission spokesperson. State privacy laws prevent investigators from releasing parents’ names to the public, so it’s difficult to determine which incidents end up in court.

Connors says his investigators consider several factors when deciding whether to file charges, including the age of the children and the amount of time they’re left alone. Minichello said despite its allure, he has no desire to bring his small children to Encore.

“It’s just not a place for kids,” Minichello said.

The Mass Council on Compulsive Gambling has a program called “Gamesense” for people who think they might have a gambling problem.

Related: More problem gamblers are banning themselves from Mass. casinos

You can also find their information kiosks inside Encore, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino.

Below is a list of incidents regarding unattended children in Mass. casinos between June 2018 and December 2019.

Encore Boston Harbor (EBH)

  • June 30, 2019: Unattended 9-year-old girl left in the hotel lobby. “Mother arrived on scene…and escorted from the property.”
  • July 22, 2019, 4:30 p.m.: Unattended 10-year-old child located by the east lobby stairs. The child was left unattended for approximately 20-30 minutes before his mother returned to the lobby. Police used the child’s iPad to contact the parents. The parents were located and escorted off casino property.
  • July 24, 2019, 8:30 p.m.: Three unaccompanied minors — ages 13-years-old, 5-years-old and 19-months-old — were found in the main lobby near the front door. “The oldest of the three minors said her parents were in the casino gambling and would be right back…the mother arrived [at 8:42] and said she was unaware it was wrong to leave minors unattended.” Father arrived at 8:50 and said the same thing.
  • Aug. 14, 2019: 11-year-old boy left at the casino, “on the harborwalk (sic). The child had approached an EBH security guard stating that he was hungry. The child had arrived approximately three hours earlier and was instructed by his mother and cousin to remain seated on a bench at the harborwalk (sic) until they returned. The mother was reluctant to return to the casino and asked that officers bring the child to Dorchester or watch him until an adult sibling would arrive later in the evening. Officers advised the mother that she needed to return to the casino. The mother returned approximately an hour later. DCF social workers arrived at EBH and interviewed the child and the mother. The matter was determined to be non-criminal.”
  • Aug. 17, 2019, 9:07 p.m.: EBH security requested assistance with several juveniles, ages 6, 11, 14 and 16, drinking and causing a disturbance in two connecting rooms at the EBH hotel. “Juveniles had been left unattended in the room. Upon the return of the parents, all parties were trespassed and escorted off [the] property.”
  • Aug. 22, 2019, 8:25 p.m.: A six-year-old child was found wandering on the sixth floor of the EBH hotel. “The young boy was upset and had urinated in his pants. The boy stated that his mother was in the casino but was coming back. Video reviews revealed that the child was in the room for approximately six hours with no adult supervision.” The mother was interviewed and escorted from the property. DCF was notified.
  • Sept. 25, 2019, 4:34 p.m.: A father left his 13-year-old son in the car with a cell phone, “advising him to not open the door for anyone while he went onto the casino floor. In total the minor was unattended for approximately 34 minutes.”
  • Sept. 29, 2019, 5:12 p.m.: An unattended 10-year-old child, “was wandering around the hotel not being able to figure out what room he was in. He then went downstairs to the front desk,” and spoke with the hotel manager. Employees eventually found two unattended minors, the 10-year-old and a 5-year-old in the room. “The mother and her male friend arrived at the room after the 10 year-old called them.”
  • Oct. 12, 2019, 6:01 p.m.: 16-year-old boy found in front of Sinatra’s, “was left for approximately 1.5 hours,” by mother.
  • Dec. 3, 2019, 1:51 p.m.: Security was called to the east lobby for an unattended 15-year-old who, “seemed lost.” “Minor trying to locate mother at East Lobby.”

Plainridge Park Casino

  • Feb. 19, 2019, 1:18 p.m.: Adult woman leaves, “young female,” by the garage entrance, places an order at Smash Burger, then returns to the child. Security escorts the two out and they drive away around 1:30 p.m. “The minor in all was left unattended for a total of 12 minutes.”
  • June 19, 2019, 10:06 p.m.: An adult and his grandson, “can be seen attempting to enter the casino via the garage entrance.” Security doesn’t let the child in. “The minor then leaves the building and sits outside the garage entrance on the bench,” while the adult goes to gamble on the casino floor. “The child was left unattended by his grandfather for approximately 15 minutes.”
  • Aug. 31, 2019: Beginning a few minutes after midnight, a mother left her child unattended in her car in the parking garage for 2 hours, 14 minutes while the mother played slots inside. “The minor did not exit the vehicle.” At 2:16, security escorted the mom out, collected her information and she drove away.

MGM Springfield

  • Sept. 16, 2018, 10:06 p.m.: Two children observed coming on and off the slot floor, “for approximately five minutes. They were also observed being left unattended while adults were seen playing a slot machine. At [10:12 p.m.] IEB observed a slot supervisor talking to the adults and had them stay with the minors.”
  • Oct. 6, 2018: Two children left unattended at the valet entrance by the casino floor. Just before 10 a.m., an adult woman can be heard telling the two children to stay where they are. “The two minors were left unattended for under a minute. MGM Security was vigilant and quickly reacted to the situation.”
  • Feb. 20, 2019, 3:49 p.m.: Unattended minor found in the hotel lobby. That 12-year-old child left his hotel room while his mother ran an errand.
  • Mar. 11, 2019, 6:45 p.m.: “MGM Security requested assistance locating adults for child left alone near M-Life. Adults located and reunited prior to [Gaming Enforcement Unit] arrival.”
  • Apr. 6, 2019, 1:25 p.m.: “[Trooper] is assisting security with locating the parents of a minor sleeping on a couch at Regal Cinemas.”
  • July 15, 2019, 4:58 p.m.: Two children left unattended in hotel lobby, surveillance video shows that the parents left the children at 4:58 p.m. “MGM Security reports that the father had been warned previously about the children on the gaming floor…Both parents were located in slot zone 5 and reunited with children approximately one hour after call.” DCF was notified.
  • July 28, 2019, 6:33 p.m.: Four children, ages 14-years-old, 6-years-old, 2-years-old and 8-months-old, found left in a vehicle on the fifth floor of the parking garage: “The parents are disruptive and disorderly and requesting to speak to a supervisor…most likely he would [be] charged with child endangerment…they would be summonsed to Springfield District Court for Child Endangerment.”
  • Aug. 2, 2019, 6:53 p.m.: “11-year-old minor on the gaming floor…surveillance located the grandmother at slot zone 536 where she was gaming.”
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