Why Gamble With Children’s Lives?

People are prepared to engage in yet more traffic, gambling addiction and even crime…

Many officials from Bucks County who planned for the 2006 Parx Casino in Bensalem never expected that adults would actually leave their children in the cars and even forget about them.

According to police these incidents happened various times since mid-June outside the sprawling Parx complex, on Street Road.  The latest report appeared Thursday, just hours after state lawmakers mentioned plans for a bill that makes it a felony to leave children under the age of 13 years unsupervised in a vehicle. “Of all the problems we thought about that were going to happen, this is one thing that was probably the most unexpected,” State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) said at a noon news conference Thursday in Bensalem.

Added State Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson (R., Bucks): “We were all shocked when we first heard of these incidents.”

During the last decade ending in 2003, KidsAndCars.org did research and found more than 30 cases of parents’ leaving children in locked cars unattended outside casinos.

This is just the latest and new stories are surfacing all the time, gamblers across the US leave their children in vehicles.

A couple cases even resulted in the deaths of children.

In 1997, a 10-day-old girl died in a car while her mother gambled for hours in a South Carolina casino.

The following year, a 3-year-old Louisiana boy died of a heat stroke whilst his caretaker was gambling away playing video poker for hours on end. In 2004, a 9-month-old Florida girl died in her car seat at a track where her father was betting on horses. Unfortunately, there are still no mechanisms in place to accurately track this problem.  Fennell said she had approached a number of casinos in different states for statistical information and had been ignored each time.

Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said the board, by law, has no control over what took place outside a casino.  He said he’s aware of children left in cars at the state’s other eight casinos. Another board spokesman, Richard McGarvey, said he did not know whether casinos were compelled to report such incidents to the board.

The volume of reports from Parx, and the mounting publicity, necessitated the board to question Parx officials Aug. 19 about how the casino is trying t0 alleviate and even solve this problem.  In July alone, Parx generated $36.7 million in slots revenue, this amount increased to 19 percent from July 2009 and the highest amount among the state’s casinos. Thomas Bonner, Parx vice president and general counsel, said last week that the casino planned to have 31 parking-lot surveillance cameras in place by midmonth – about double what it has had for its 7,000-space lot.

Security patrols have been beefed up during the casino’s busiest times: Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, Bonner said. Customers are being asked to report any children seen in the parking lot, and warning signs have been posted at the casino, as well he said. The increased patrols by state police seems to be paying off and six of the seven cases at Parx have been reported by customers, police said. Some have suggested that security officials check any vehicles entering the lot for children inside.

“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t possible,” Bonner said Thursday. But he said it would be difficult because Parx had five entrances and because the casino shared parking space with the Parx Racing horse track.  Unlike the casino, the track allows children inside.”

Bensalem officials said the township had hired 21 new police officers since Parx opened, but refused to say how many help patrol the Parx site. Tomlinson and DiGirolamo said their legislation would enable judges to impose a sentence of up to seven years in prison. But they said it could also give a judge more options – such as a longer period of probation – to monitor and restrict problem gamblers.

“This is serious,” Tomlinson said. “We don’t expect this to happen again.”

Don’t bet on it, attorney Boni advised, for gambling addicts seldom worry about the consequences.

“When you want to go out to a movie and you can’t get a sitter to watch your kids, you go some other time,” he said. “When you are an addicted gambler, you can’t not go to the casino. So you find a way.”



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