Kids left alone in cars in parking lots continues to be an ongoing problem for Pennsylvania casinos and regulators. However, more action is being taken to raise awareness, prevent kids from being left unattended, and ultimately, stop a tragedy before it happens.
Valley Forge Casino and representatives from owner Boyd Gaming presented a six-part plan to increase detection and enforcement for unattended children during the Nov. 10 Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board meeting,
In a newly implemented measure for casinos, Valley Forge Casino installed infrared cameras to detect and locate kids left alone in cars.
Kids left alone in cars in casino parking lots
Kids being left unattended in casino parking lots has been a problem for a number of years. Since 2011, 131 people have been placed on the PGCB Involuntary Exclusion list for this type of incident.
In 2020, 19 people were placed on PGCB’s involuntary exclusion list for child endangerment. In nearly all cases, it was the result of leaving children unattended in a vehicle. Twenty-one children were left abandoned in vehicles at casinos in 2020.
PGCB Commissioner Sean Logan has voiced his disdain, disappointment and frustration during meetings over the years. During an interview with PlayPennsylvania in May, he said:
“For the life of me, I can’t see how someone leaves their kid or kids in a car unattended to go into a casino. It obviously hasn’t curtailed. It always seems like it’s 20, 30, 40 minutes. A whole hell of a lot of bad things can happen in that time. It leads me to believe everyone needs to do more. The PGCB, the casinos, the state police, the local police. We are all complicit in this, including myself, to let this go on. Our luck is going to end. We are going to run out of time.”
Dangers of leaving a child alone in a car include:
- Heatstroke or hypothermia
- Car theft
- Power windows can kill or injure a child
- The child could set the car in motion
- Seatbelts pose a strangulation risk
- Abductions and kidnapping
- Choking hazards
- Risk of child getting out of the car
Plan to detect unattended children in cars
Valley Forge Casino reported 15 instances of unattended minors in cars between 2018-2020. Through September 2021, there have 22 been occurrences.
The increased safety measures are a result of work between Boyd Gaming and the PGCB’s Office of Enforcement Counsel.
Adrian R. King Jr., a Ballard Spahr lawyer who represents Valley Forge, commented during the PGCB meeting:
“This is a vexing and frustrating issue. We’ve really worked closely together with regulators to find creative solutions to solve this problem. This problem sits at the feet of irresponsible parents. We have a responsibility to run a safe and secure property. I truly believe we’ve come up with some solid solutions. We can never prevent human stupidity. We can attempt to mitigate it and dumb decisions don’t become tragic ones.”
Valley Forge Casino’s six-part plan to increase detection and enforcement
- Reinforce team member involvement
- Infrared cameras
- Refreshed and enhanced signage for parking lot, food court and all hotel rooms
- Partnered with Upper Merion Police Department during peak betting times at the sportsbook.
- An outside security company patrols the parking lot 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. When they are not there, the Valley Forge Casino security staff patrols.
- Adding cameras to elevators and casino floor
Boyd budgeted $776,000 toward the plan.
“Thank you for your dedication to this issue. I apologize that you have to spend so much money to parent and grandparent. I do appreciate your work and this will go a long way,” said Logan.
When asked for comment by PlayPennsylvania after the meeting, Logan added:
“I applaud the steps that Valley Forge is undertaking to combat the issue of unattended kids. My hope is that more facilities throughout the Commonwealth recognize the problem and take immediate action.”
Infrared cameras to detect kids left alone in cars
Currently, there are two infrared cameras positioned at different locations in the parking lot at Valley Forge Casino. The infrared,4K cameras can see inside of a car and detect the heat of a person inside of a car.
Chief Enforcement Counsel for the Gaming Control Board Cyrus Pitre commented:
“The infrared cameras, that is something that new to the Commonwealth’s casinos. Valley Forge implemented it on their own and put their money where their mouth is.
Denise Smyler, chairperson of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board added
“I have to give Commissioner Logan a lot of credit for bringing this to the attention of the casino industry”, said Smyler. “He’s been focusing on this for a long time.”
Recent cases of kids alone in cars at PA casinos
A sad, but common theme at Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board monthly meetings is people landing on the Involuntary Exclusion List for leaving kids alone in a car while they gamble in a PA casino.
Two more people landed on this list at the November meeting.
- Adonius Melvins, Jr, left his two children, ages 7 and 8, alone in the car for 19 minutes while he was placing wagers at the Rivers Casino Philadelphia sportsbook. Charges are currently pending and he was permanently evicted from the property.
- Jervey Shackelford left his 6-year-old in a car on a public street near Rivers Casino Pittsburgh while he placed a bet at the sportsbook.
Here are more people who are on the involuntary exclusion list for leaving a kid alone and other crimes at PA casinos.
Lead photo by Katie Kohler