Bill addresses kids left alone in casino lots
Recent incidents sparked legislation
Friday, September 03, 2010
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Two Republican lawmakers are upset about several incidents this summer at a suburban Philadelphia casino, where adults have gone inside to gamble while leaving young children alone in vehicles in the parking lot.
State Sen. Robert Tomlinson and Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, both from Bucks County, said Thursday that stronger penalties are needed to stop such incidents at the Parx Casino, located at Philadelphia Park racetrack, or any other casino. The lawmakers are sponsoring a bill calling for stiffer fines and jail time.
"The public needs to understand that there are serious safety risks to children who are left in unattended vehicles," Mr. Tomlinson said. "This bill will send a message that irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated and that offenders will face strong penalties."
The most recent incident occurred last week, according to police in Bensalem, where the casino is located. A 34-year-old father was accused of leaving his children, ages 7 and 12, inside a car with their puppy, after 10 p.m. while he went inside to play blackjack for up to 30 minutes.
On Aug. 1, a Philadelphia woman was charged with having her daughters, 8 and 15, wait in her car while she played slot machines for six hours, until 12:30 a.m.
Mr. DiGiralamo said, "It is unconscionable to me that parents will intentionally leave their children alone in their cars in a casino parking lot. While we cannot legislate proper parenting, we can put tough laws on the books to provide serious punishments for those who are willing to put their children in harm's way."
They will introduce the same bill in both chambers. It would make it a third-degree felony to leave a child under age 13 in a vehicle without adult supervision, with a penalty of 31/2 to seven years in jail and a fine up to $15,000. Currently, the offense is a misdemeanor with up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
The two legislators said Parx Casino has been "cooperative and aggressive" in trying to prevent anymore such incidents. It has increased its own patrols of cars in the parking lot and is working with police in Bensalem. The casino also is sanctioning offending customers, the lawmakers said, but added tougher penalties are needed.
David LaTorre, a spokesman for The Meadows racetrack/casino in Washington County, said there have been no such incidents of children left unattended at The Meadows.
"We have a 24-hour security officer presence that patrols our parking lot," he said.
Spokesman Jack Horner for the Rivers Casino on the North Shore said the facility has only had one incident in the year it has been open.
"Thanks to regular sweeps of the parking lot, Rivers' identified the car, notified authorities and within one hour, corrected the situation," he said. "We can't stop parents from making bad choices; but Rivers Casino will continue being vigilant in our efforts to prevent this from happening."