(WKBN) – The problem of parents leaving children behind to gamble is so bad in Pennsylvania that everyone involved with the state’s casinos is cooperating to solve it.

The number of incidents is up 57% this year compared with last year. The total number of incidents and the number of children involved is well into the hundreds.

Kevin O’Toole is executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Control Board, which last week started an awareness campaign called Don’t Gamble With Kids.

What prompted the campaign were the large numbers of parents leaving kids in parking lots and hotel rooms and then gambling in Pennsylvania’s 16 casinos. Since January, 269 incidents involving 441 minors have been reported at Pennsylvania casinos. That’s up from 171 incidents involving 279 minors in all of last year, an increase of 57%.

“It’s just a very bad situation, we’re really trying to raise awareness on that issue,” O’Toole said. In fact, it got so bad last year that some Pennsylvania casinos installed infrared cameras.

“If you focus that camera on a car at night, you can see a lot better. You can tell if somebody is inside a car,” O’Toole said.

If someone is caught leaving their kids to gamble, there’s a hearing which could result in a lifetime ban from all of Pennsylvania’s casinos. It’s called an involuntary exclusion list. And this is for first-time offenders — there are no second chances.

“Under those circumstances, you leave your kids unattended and you go into the casino to gamble, then you’re going to be on the involuntary exclusion list, and it’s not easy to get off that list,” O’Toole said.

Austintown police report that in the past two years, they’ve been called just twice for unattended children at Hollywood Gaming. And Hollywood, too, has a lifetime ban for people caught doing it.

“If you’re a parent and you got this urge that is so strong that you take your kids out with you and leave them in the car, we think that there’s at least a co-relation where that person may be in the beginning of having a gambling problem. So, we’re trying to get that information to those individuals as well,” O’Toole said.