Forty-eight people have been trespassed from Auckland's SkyCity Casino in recent years for leaving their children alone in places like cars in the car park, hotel rooms, or on the street while they gambled.
But a gambling and addiction expert believes the actual number of incidents of children being left unattended will be much higher, saying when you're hooked on the pokies, little else matters.
"Gamblers describe this as entering the zone, which really just means that they dissociate completely from reality from what's going on around them," says Associate Professor Maria Bellringer, director of Auckland University of Technology's Gambling & Addiction Research Centre.
Prof Bellringer says pokies are designed by psychologists to keep people playing and addicts completely lose track of time.
"[They are] in this trance-like state and forget what's going on around them."
This includes their children, she says, something that concerns her.
Since January 2019, 48 people have been trespassed from SkyCity Casino for leaving a child unattended while they gamble. Police were called in 27 of the incidents
Children have been left alone in cars, hotel rooms, the lobby, or on streets near the casino.
"I suspect it's higher. Parents will be leaving children at home as well," Prof Bellringer says.
- If you know more, email Michael Morrah in confidence at email@example.com
Children of problem gamblers suffer from attachment issues and are more prone to substance abuse, eating disorders and gambling themselves - with evidence it can start with just informal schoolyard bets.
"In fact, children as young as nine years old in the country have reported gambling for money," Prof Bellringer says.
SkyCity must report all incidents of children being found alone to Internal Affairs. In the most recent audit - finalised in May last year - it was the one compliance area out of 10 where the regulator was satisfied the operator was meeting its obligations.
SkyCity told Newshub it has a zero-tolerance policy to the issue. It says there are:
"regular sweeps" of car parks and high-risk areas carried out by security
increased staffing at casino entrances during peak times
"enhanced" signage warning of the legal age
regular public address announcements in the car park and lobby stating children shouldn't be left alone.
Last year, 16 underage people gained access to the casino floor.
Internal Affairs says there are "ongoing discussions" with the casino to ensure it's meeting its host responsibility requirements.