Welcome back to Prompts, the series designed to generate ideas for characters, settings, plots or themes for all types of creative projects. Previous prompts have explored Las Vegas casinos. Today, we feature people you might find in the casinos in Vegas, or anywhere problem gambling may occur, casino kids.
Casino kids are people under the age of twenty-one who must spend large amounts of time on the periphery of casinos due to a parent or guardian’s problem gambling.
Once a person reaches the age of twenty-one, the legal age to gamble, he or she is free to roam around the casino floor. People under the age of twenty-one are only permitted on the casino floor to pass through in order to access the restrooms, buffets, or stage areas in order to attend shows. They are not allowed to loiter, or to approach the gaming tables or slot machines. Parents and guardians whose gambling has become a problem, even an addiction, often leave their underage children in casino parking lots, restaurants, buffets, shopping areas, game rooms, hotel lobbies, or even on the very edge of the casino floor, in designated seating areas.
Casino kids are not always at the casino with the parent or guardian.
A “casino kid” is anyone who has spent large amounts of time in the designated non-gaming areas of a casino due to a parent or guardian’s problem gambling. They are not necessarily in the casino every day. Sometimes the casino kid is brought to the casino. Other times, they are left home alone, or dropped off someplace else, such as a store, library, community center, or diner.
Casino staff often pretend casino kids do not exist, or treat them as though they are doing something wrong.
One adult “casino kid”, who chose not to be named for their own privacy, remembers spending an entire evening and part of the night stuck inside a casino while their legal guardian gambled. The person was in their mid-teens at the time, and relegated to a hotel lobby and video game room off the gaming area. The teen grew so stiff from sitting on the game room stools, and so tired, they slumped against the video game and began to drift off to sleep.
“You look tired,” a staff member remarked before walking away. The casino kid further reported different staff members kicking them out of gift shops and restaurants, without ever asking if they were okay or needed help.
From the staff member’s point of view, they are likely only protecting their own job. Casino workers are typically low-paid customer service workers, and the guardian with a gambling problem is the customer. The staff member may not intend to be cold-hearted, but may only fear that the parent will complain to management and get them fired. However, adult casino kids who contributed their stories to this article report that even a supportive word or inquiry would have meant the world to them.
Dangers lurk around the casino for casino kids.
On the surface, it may look glamorous or fun for a kid, especially a teen, to get to hang around casinos so much. But casino kids are typically bored, stressed and worried over their parent or guardian’s gambling, and vulnerable to a variety of dangers.
Predators look for vulnerable kids. Adults intent on causing every type of harm, including traffickers, may approach a casino kid and pretend to offer friendship or a supprtive adult role model, in order to gain their trust. Many casino kids are aware of this and know to be cautious around any adult they do not already trust. But others may feel so alone in their situation as a child of a problem gambler, they let their guard down at the first sign of someone who cares.
Casino kids may lack basic resources, even if their parent or guardian has the means to provide them.
A casino kid may be hungry, dirty, or falling behind in school, even if their parent has plentiful resources to their name. The parent or guardian with a gambling problem may earn plenty of money, but gamble it all away, leaving little or nothing to pay for basic necessities like food or hygiene products. The casino kid may attend a good school and live in a home with plenty of room for studying, but have low grades due to stress and exhaustion from spending too much time stuck out in the casino.
There are no specific resources for casino kids.
Community resources such as law enforcement, child protective services, domestic violence centers, and homelessness services can of course be contacted, whether the child or teen’s problems are related to a guardian’s gambling or not. But there are no organizations devoted specifically to helping casino kids.
That is not to suggest there isn’t hope. Therapy and support groups are available for both problem gamblers and for those their gambling impacts.