Casinos cash in with child
By HEIDI EVANS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Saturday, February 22nd, 2003
The ponytailed third-grader had racked up her 114,000th point on the
Pac Man video game when her baby-sitter suggested they try calling her
mom's cell phone. It was 2 a.m., closing time at the arcade.
"You have the number?" the girl asked, her sleepy eyes brightening.
They dialed. No answer.
Finally, sometime before 3 a.m., the 9-year-old Fort Lee, N.J., girl
hit the jackpot. Her mother showed up — rolling in late to the Kids
Quest child care center at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.,
after gambling away a Friday night and the early hours of a Saturday
"More times than I care to remember, I've driven home from work
watching the sun come up," said one child care worker, who has waited
with a child for hours until a parent was located. "Most parents are
very responsible, they love their kids, but there are some. ..."
As the number of casinos expands across America, so has a little-known
for parents who gamble — onsite child-care centers that are as dazzling
for kids as the casino floor — just yards away — is for adults.
With computer games, basketball court, children's cafe, movies and
cribs for infants as young as 6 weeks, children can stay as late as 2
a.m. on weekends and 11 p.m. on school nights while their parents play.
a fun and safe environment for children, Kids Quest centers, which are
in 20 casinos nationwide, are in fact bottom-line enterprises, intended
to attract high-rolling parents, increase casino profits — and create
next generation of gamblers.
"When those kids start growing up, what do you think they are going to
most? Being with Aunt Tilly in their hometown park? Or the wonderful
they had at that fairyland casino?" said Dr. Durand Jacobs, a professor
of psychiatry at Loma Linda University Medical School in California and
a national expert on gambling addiction and youth. "They will return
they are adults with their children in tow. It becomes an
marketing ploy of tremendous success."
Kids Quest, which got its start in 1971 as a traditional child care
company in Minnesota, does not dispute this.
"We are a sophisticated child-care company that understands the casino
and realized that we can drive up revenues and have people come to the
who are a higher-quality gamer," said Kids Quest President Susan
The company's marketing materials are even more direct. In them,
Dunkley asks, "Why a Kids Quest in Your Casino?"
# On average, Kids Quest will drive more than $2 million in additional
revenue to its host property every year.
# 80% of our customers indicated they would not be able to visit the
without a Kids Quest facility.
# You must offer supervised activities while the (Baby) Boomer parents
are gambling. Although theme parks for families help, the gaming
industry still does not realize how the boomer generation is... crucial
to attracting Generation
X and the younger generations as they mature."
Keeping them safe
Some gambling executives argue that onsite child care is a way to
protect children from parents who might otherwise leave them
Terrible tales abound of children who have been abducted or abandoned
in and around casinos, as preoccupied parents disappear into a timeless
world of gambling and free drinks. Among the worst:
# A 7-year-old California girl was raped and strangled in a Nevada
casino rest room by a teenage boy while her father gambled.
# A Georgia mother pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after her
baby died of dehydration in a sweltering parked car — while she played
poker for two hours in a South Carolina casino.
# A 31-year-old Virginia woman was arrested on neglect charges for
leaving six young children unattended in a Chevy Suburban while she and
her mother played the slot machines at the Caesar's riverboat casino in
Last year, at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, which reported five
incidents of abandonment, a 7-year-old Flushing, Queens, girl was found
by a housekeeper
alone in a hotel room. Her mother was turned over to state police.
Lisa Welch, a Long Island day care operator whose husband is in therapy
for his gambling addiction, was shocked when she learned about Kids
"They should be ashamed of themselves," said Welch, who with her four
has been financially and emotionally devastated by their father's
"I don't care how wonderful the child care is. If Kids Quest truly had
for children, they would have their business far away from casinos."
But Mitchell Etess, executive vice president of marketing for Mohegan
Sun, said the decision to hook up with Kids Quest was the right thing
to do for hotel-casinos which have increasingly become family
"Kids Quest had a long history of being successful with casinos, and we
it was a perfect fit," Etess said. "It would allow people to come and
the time and know their kids were adequately cared for."
Etess also conceded Kids Quest is good for Mohegan Sun's bottom line.
Despite Kids Quest's popularity, most casino executives say casinos and
are a bad mix.
"Our overall philosophy is that kids don't belong in casinos," said
Robert Stewart, a spokesman for Park Place Entertainment Corp., which
owns 27 casino
ventures worldwide, including Caesars, Bally's and Hilton Gaming.
"We don't market to children, and we don't encourage guests to bring
their children when they visit. We think that casinos and gambling are
Other gambling executives say the potential for irresponsible parents
onsite child care too risky.
"Why put yourself in jeopardy as a company? Why create an attractive
said one casino official who requested anonymity. "What do you do when
parent shows up drunk at the end of the night and wants to drive away
their kid? You do the right thing and call the police and then you, the
casino, get sued by the parent for holding the child."
At the Mohegan Sun Kids Quest, business is brisk, particularly on
weekends when families come for a vacation getaway. In addition to a
gaming area that is larger than Las Vegas' Mirage, Stardust and
Tropicana hotels put together, the glitzy Indian-owned hotel also
offers an underground shopping arcade, top-name entertainers,
restaurants and a health spa.
Parents line up to drop off their babies and youngsters as early as 9
a.m. at the $7-an-hour facility. After picture IDs are shown, a menu of
snacks and meals is filled out and a sticker with a computer bar code
is slapped on each child's back. Parents wave goodbye, and their
offspring enter Kids Quest's locked metal gate to climb, play and make
Playtime for pops
Michael Wood, a gas station owner who lives nearby, dropped off his two
— Noelle, 9, and Rebecca, 11 — for two hours so he could play
"This is a good service," he said, hurrying out to the casino. "I know
my kids are protected, and I get to enjoy myself for a few hours."
from gambling can be used to pay for Kids Quest.
As she was signing her toddler in on a recent Friday night, one mother
"I just love to eat my dinner and not have my son pick food off my
and say, ‘Yuck.' " Her husband added: "I love this place. My son
know it's a baby-sitter."
In the far corner of the room, an infant whose neck muscles weren't yet
enough to hold up his head was perched on the lap of a child-care
She patted the baby's back and waited for a burp.
"You have to make a reservation far in advance," said the staffer,
there are only 16 spots in the nursery. "We book up quickly."
On a recent Saturday night, a mother cradling her 4-week-old child
to hand the baby to a Kids Quest employee, but was refused. The
staffer, Meagan Madore, told the woman the baby had to be at least 6
"Can't you lie?" the mother pleaded.
"No," Madore answered firmly.
Kids Quest officials say the average stay is about three hours and the
20 locations had 700,000 visits last year.
Several child care workers said that despite the late closing time,
parents often arrived after hours.
Parents are offered beepers for $2 extra in case Kids Quest has to find
but it's not mandatory and not every parent takes one.
But that is no guarantee of parental response.
"If I'm holding a royal flush, I don't care how many times my beeper
goes off," said Joanna Franklin of the National Council on Problem
Dunkley, the Kids Quest president, dismissed her staff's observations
as "an exaggeration."
But a company official said that out of 58,000 visits last year to
Mohegan Sun's Kids Quest, parents were late 300 times. Parents are
fined $5 for every 15 minutes they are late. They can be banned for
frequent offenses, but employees say that is rare.
"The saddest thing you see," said one employee, "are the kids who get
stuck here for eight hours. ... We have our regulars. And some of the
parents pretend they don't know the closing time, telling us, ‘We
thought you were open 24 hours.' "
Weeknights are quieter. The Daily News found about 25 school-aged kids
a recent Thursday, between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., hours when most children
under 12 are home. A 11:10 p.m., a young mother and her 10-year-old son
were the last out. The boy walked several paces behind his mother,
with a toy. His mother, slouched and defeated with a cigarette in hand,
didn't look back.
The two shuffled past a bar and a fake waterfall, their path lit by the
and orange lights of clanging slot machines as they walked toward a
parking lot and a desolate winter's night.