Smith’s case is not only part of a growing problem nationwide – it has become a stain on the Tri-State casino industry.
There were 262 cases of children left in cars at casinos in the United States in the last 20 years, according to data from KidsAndCars.org. Forty of those cases involved casinos in Ohio and Indiana.
There were also more reports of children left alone in cars at casinos between 2010 and 2014 than any other five-year span.
The problem is so bad, the American Gaming Association (AGA) announced in August it is working with KidsAndCars.org to raise awareness and strengthen the industry’s security practices.
The AGA includes members from Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati owner Caesars Entertainment and Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg owner Penn National Gaming.
KidsandCars.org President Janette Fennell said the stats, while already alarming, could actually be higher.
She said many cases of children left alone at casinos are not reported.
“It’s very underreported,” Fennell said. “People are doing this and a lot of this has to do with gambling addiction.”
It is illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to enter a casino in Indiana and Ohio without an adult – and that minor is only allowed in designated areas of the casino where there is no gambling. Breaking this law is a felony.
There are only 19 states in the U.S. with laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Ohio and Indiana are not one of those 19.
But cars are not the only place children are being left while their parents gamble.
The I-Team discovered six cases of parents leaving children alone at restaurants like Starbucks and Bobby's Burger Place inside Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati since it opened in 2013. These parents were given warnings and asked to leave the property.
On March 11, 2013, a 38-year-old mother allowed her three 12-year-old girls to “walk around” the casino alone, according to records. The mother was warned and not charged.
Two days later, a 33-year-old mother left her “young boy” leaning against a wall while she and two friends played with slot machines, records state. The mother was also not charged.
Cincinnati police said a 28-year-old man brought his 16 and 17-year-old cousins into the casino in April of 2013. They said the teens illegally played slots while the 28-year-old played blackjack. The case was forwarded to the county juvenile prosecutor's office for consideration.
In July of 2014, a 5-year-old and 7-year-old were left alone in Horseshoe’s parking garage after their mother went inside the casino to retrieve their grandmother. The woman was warned and not charged.
Dr. Ronald Sachs, an addiction therapist with more than 30 years of experience, said he attributes this behavior in part to gambling addiction.
“It indicates there’s a loss of control – that somebody intends to do something for a short period of time and they lose track of it that,” he said. “Is it causing financial problems? Is it causing legal problems? Yes. Is it causing family problems? Those are the areas you look at.”
Sachs said there is no medication to treat gambling addiction like there is to treat opiate or other drug addictions.
The only way to break free of a gambling addiction is with a 12-step program or similar treatment, he said.
“A lot of people don’t believe (addiction) is an illness. They say it’s just a bad choice. It’s bad morals,” he said. “Addiction is much deeper than that. It gets in and it sinks these hooks into you.”
Mike, a member of the international organization Gamblers Anonymous who asked not to be identified by his full name, said he was disappointed by the limited amount of places locally for gambling addicts to seek treatment.
A Google search found only eight places near Cincinnati and Lawrenceburg that help gamblers overcome addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous, however, has hundreds of local meetings throughout the week.
Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step program and support network set up to assist people who have a gambling problem. To find Gamblers Anonymous meetings near you, click here.
You can also call the National Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700. They offer free, confidential help for problem gamblers and their family members.