Neglected children innocent victims of a growing problem, say campaigners

Nearly 100 children were found wandering by themselves in SkyCity last year, show new statistics which anti-gambling advocates say prove problem gambling is a growing issue.

In most cases, the adults responsible for the children were found in the main gaming floor on pokie machines or at a table game.

Figures released by the Department of Internal Affairs under the Official Information Act show there were 64 incidents of "unattended children" last year, involving 96 children. In 2009, just 19 such incidents were recorded.

Just over half the children were aged between 10 and 14, with one-third between the ages of six and nine. The rest were younger than 4.


The police were called in some cases, including when a couple left five children locked in a van in the basement carpark for 45 minutes while they gambled.

The mother, 29, was discharged without conviction, while her partner, 39, was convicted and discharged. Both have name suppression to protect the identity of their children, who were aged between 5 months and 8 years old.

The Problem Gambling Foundation was alarmed by the figures.

Communications manager Andree Froudee said: "Some of these children are very young (and) it's also an indication that problem gambling is an issue. Children are the innocent victims and, sadly, this can be the fallout from problem gambling."

The foundation was worried about the rise in children left unattended.

"The fact we're seeing an increase in the number of reported cases makes you wonder how many other cases there are."

SkyCity general manager of corporate communications Gordon Jon Thompson said the company had zero tolerance for parents and caregivers who left children alone.

"However, despite our best efforts some people make poor choices. As well as having brochures and clear signage throughout our premises, we are introducing an audio message in seven languages to be played across main public access areas at SkyCity reminding customers of our policy."

Mr Thompson said the increase in numbers could be attributed to targeted patrolling by surveillance teams "extremely vigilant" in looking out for children.

The information from the DIA shows caregivers had a variety of excuses for having their children in the casino.

These included coming in to look for partners, validating parking tickets, collecting promotional gifts and buying food.

A DIA spokesman said surveillance film supported these explanations in some instances but in most cases the adult responsible was found on the main gaming floor.

A "very small number" of children were found in the SkyCity hotel premises where their parents had left them sleeping while they went to the casino. "The children had woken and were looking for their parents."

A similarly small number of children were located in the main entry to the atrium while their parents, either hotel guests or tourists, were taking a tour of the casino.

- Additional reporting, Andrew Koubaridis