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What to Do With All Those Kids in the Land of Casinos

Child care: Debate rages over whether to bring them to Las Vegas at all. But if you do, baby-sitting options are limited.

June 15, 1997|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Is a casino complex a reasonable place for children? If so, at what hours, and under what circumstances? And how much concern should one horrific killing in Primm, Nev., raise among families headed for Las Vegas?

Those and other questions have weighed heavily since the May 25 death of 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson at the Primadonna Casino and the arrest of an 18-year-old high school student accused of killing her.

The first question, of course, is whether Vegas is an appropriate place to take children at all--a focus of much argument in recent weeks, and ultimately a decision that parents have to make on their own.

Among parents who do bring their children, most are likely to end up choosing among three child-care options: Keep them in the company of an adult family member at all times (difficult if parents want to gamble or enjoy other adult pastimes); drop children off for short periods at a licensed child-care facility; or use a licensed baby-sitting service.

Day care: Despite all the amenities found at the mega-hotels along the Strip's prime blocks--and all the millions spent in recent years on marketing Las Vegas as a family-friendly destination--authorities say the only Strip hotel with a licensed day-care facility is the MGM Grand. However, several hotels off the Strip have similar facilities.

Classified by government regulators as "accommodation facilities," these centers generally take children for up to 3 1/2 hours per 24-hour period, typically charging $5 to $7 per child per hour. Under restrictions enforced by city, county or state officials (depending on the facility's location), the sites generally must take on no more than about 10 children per supervising adult, and must submit to Health Department inspections twice yearly. Staff members must be free of any criminal record (as determined by fingerprint checks), must pass tuberculosis testing, learn CPR and attend a class on how to recognize and report child abuse and neglect.

By a special agreement with county officials (much of the Strip is outside Las Vegas city limits), the MGM Grand's Youth Center is permitted to take children age 3 to 12 for up to five hours, or even for two five-hour stretches with a two-hour break (for a meal with parents, perhaps) in between. Activities include sports, arts and video games; capacity is 51 kids. Summer hours are 9 a.m. to midnight. MGM guests get priority and pay $6 to $7 per child per hour; non-hotel-guests pay $2 more per hour and generally are accommodated only on a walk-up basis.

Off the Strip, the following casino-hotels have licensed facilities: Boulder Station (on Boulder Highway), Sunset Station (in the Vegas-adjacent city of Henderson), Sam's Town (on Boulder Highway), Gold Coast (on Flamingo Road) and Santa Fe (on North Rancho Drive).

At Boulder Station and just-opened Sunset Station, child-care facilities are operated by Kids Quest, a publicly held company based in Minneapolis. Kids Quest Vice President Jean Regan reports that the 2-year-old Boulder Station facility is usually at maximum capacity Thursdays through Sundays. Ages 6 weeks to 12 years are accepted; not limited to hotel guests. Hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on school nights, until 1 a.m. on weekend nights. To double-check on the accreditation of a day-care facility, visitors can call the Clark County Child Care Licensing Department at (702) 455-3894.

Baby sitters: On some summer weekend nights, as many as 200 baby sitters are stationed with children in hotels throughout Las Vegas. The major baby-sitting companies routinely send sitters to hotels, where they may watch children in guest rooms or, usually with written permission, accompany children to the pool or arcade areas, or in some cases off hotel grounds.

Though baby-sitting companies are not regulated by the same child service agencies that watch day-care facilities, their employees are required by local officials to pass fingerprint checks for criminal records, and generally to pass a tuberculosis test and know CPR, as well.

Some hotels recommend specific baby-sitting agencies to guests, still other hotels decline to recommend anyone. The following listings shouldn't be viewed as an endorsement, but several child-care veterans agreed that three of the area's largest, oldest baby-sitting companies are:

* Vegas Valley Baby-Sitting, telephone (702) 871-5161. The company, more than 35 years old, counts more than 60 sitters on its list and charges $37 for a minimum four-hour stint with one or two children from the same family. Additional hours: $7 each. (A second company, Precious Commodities, is run by the same owner using the same sitters.)

* Nanny's and Granny's, tel. (702) 364-4700. About 10 years old, the company keeps a list of about 60 sitters and charges $35 for a minimum four-hour stint (one or two children in same family), $7 for each additional hour.

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