Last weekend my husband, daughter and I decided to take a trip to the Rhode Island/Connecticut border and explore the area a little. We went to the beach and watched the waves roll in, we ate lunch at a famously haunted restaurant, and went to Mohegan Sun. Mohegan Sun is a Casino with all the standard casino stuff – slots, craps, blackjack, giant art sculptures, high priced stores, fancy restaurants, etc. But they also have something that most casinos don’t have – a play area for kids. The play area is divided into two parts, an arcade for kids twelve and older and a play room for kids under twelve that is better than anything I could have expected. A karaoke stage, climbing wall, arts and crafts center, giant set of slides, movie theater, and pretend apartment for the best game of house you’ve ever seen all waited for my daughter to explore them while my husband and I got to go have a couple of hours of grown-up time. After we had an early lunch at one of the restaurants there we waltzed over to the play area and got in line to check our daughter into the facility.
As we signed her in the staff reviewed their rules and procedures with us, explaining how their schedule works. “Once she has been here for two and a half hours we will offer her a drink and a healthy snack. At two hour intervals from that point forward we will offer her food and drink and you will be charged accordingly.”
“Oh, we won’t be gone that long. We will be back in about 2 hours.” I told her.
“That’s fine, but we will offer her food and drink at these times. We close at 2 a.m. tonight.” She replied.
We thanked her and watched our daughter run off to begin exploring the playroom, not worrying about anything at all. We gambled, we wandered around looking at all the cool stuff in the casino, we browsed the shops, etc. When we were about 5 minutes out from the two hours we promised our daughter we would be gone we started walking back to the playroom to pick her up and a depressing reality dropped out of the sky and hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Oh my god” I said, “The reason she told us about the feeding schedule there is because some parents leave their kids there for the whole day! The reason she reiterated the feeding schedule and closing times to me was because parents will drop their kid off ‘for an hour or two’ and come back eight or nine hours later. Holy crap…”
“Wow, I hadn’t even considered that! Poor kids!” my husband exclaimed.
As we paid the bill ($11.50 an hour for the play place and an extra $4 for art supplies for the craft area) they asked for my ID when I pulled out my credit card. “Would someone really be dumb enough to have dropped off their kid, put a copy of their photo ID on file, and given you their phone numbers for emergency contact information only to then try to use a stolen credit card to pay the bill?” I asked.
“That happens almost every day.” The woman replied.
There in that brightly colored room full of happy, excited children we were brought face to face with the dark, slimy underbelly of a monster. While we will absolutely go back again since everyone in the family had a fabulous time, the looming shadow of addiction will be there to remind us that the bright lights and happy sounds are there not just to entertain but to distract us from reality.
Homer Simpson: “The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it's time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!”