A 4-month-old baby left alone in a vehicle was among more than 140 children abandoned at New Zealand casinos in the past four years.

In most cases, parents and caregivers were found playing gaming machines, table games or bingo as the children waited outside.

Figures released to the Herald on Sunday under the Official Information Act show the Department of Internal Affairs was notified of 26 unsupervised children this year.

Last month, police were called to Auckland's SkyCity casino after a child was abandoned while his grandparents played bingo. The boy was outside the main gaming room on the casino's third floor.

Internal Affairs said most of the children abandoned since 2006 were found by casino staff in main entry areas in the evening. About a third were found between 10.30am and 6pm.

All were waiting for parents, grandparents, other relatives or family friends who were gambling on the main gaming floor. Most were playing gaming machines or table games and five were playing bingo.

Some children were left for more than two hours, but in most cases they were alone for 30 minutes before they were found.

Heather McShane, from Internal Affairs' gambling compliance group, said most children were aged 8-11. The oldest was 16 and the youngest was a 4-month-old found at SkyCity casino.

McShane said the baby was found "unattended and distressed in a vehicle in the car park" early in the evening of February 9, 2009.

Patrons informed security and the baby was removed. After 18 minutes gambling, the father checked his vehicle, found the child missing and contacted casino staff.

The man was arrested and banned from returning to the casino.

SkyCity spokesman Peter Treacy said the company had "zero tolerance for people leaving their children unattended to come to our place and game".

"We're about fun and entertainment but that has to be coupled with responsibility. All employees are briefed to be on the lookout for this sort of thing.

"We have improved visibility of our signage which says areas are restricted to adults and raised a general awareness that children on their own are not acceptable."

A brochure was also available, outlining why children were not allowed in the casino and what happens to people who leave them there.

"We're pretty damn good. I think generally, people understand their responsibilities. This doesn't happen often, the message is getting across. Some people will make excuses but it doesn't wash."

Christchurch Casino chief executive Brett Anderson said the venue also had zero tolerance to unattended children. There had been only five incidents of children being left in 15 years of operation, he said.

A spokesman for Dunedin casino did not return calls.

Child Protection Services chief executive Anthea Simcock said one child unattended at a casino was one too many.

Education could help get the message through to some offenders but when parents or caregivers had gambling addictions, leaving children alone was much more serious.

Hall of shame
* May 2010: Police were called to Auckland's SkyCity casino after a boy was found alone while his grandparents played bingo. The boy was waiting outside the main gaming room on the third floor.

* October 2003: A Canterbury mother left a 6-year-old girl asleep in a car while she gambled at the Christchurch casino. The girl woke about 2am and became extremely distressed.

* November 2001: A mother left her 7-week-old daughter in the carpark at Auckland's SkyCity casino to spend 3 hours gambling away $100. The newborn was seriously dehydrated when casino security officers found her.

* October 1999: Police were called when a woman discovered a distressed child outside Dunedin casino. The parents, who had been in New Zealand only six months, left the 14-month-old alone for about an hour.

anna.leask@hos.co.nz