The Pennsylvania State Police reported that there have been 57 incidents of children being left unattended in a vehicle in casino parking lots so far in 2021. In addition to sharing the number of incidents, the PSP tweeted a message to their 74k followers:
“Don’t gamble with your child’s life. It is illegal and endangers children. It can be deadly.”
PSP Communications Director Grace Griffaton said:
“Children should never be left unattended in a vehicle, especially right now. It’s extremely hot outside. In ten minutes, a car’s temperature can go up 2o degrees. Children are dying because of being left in cars. If you have to leave a child, call someone to watch that child.”
What the police do when a kid is left in a car
Pennsylvania State Police maintain a presence at every Pennsylvania casino. However, they are not there 24/7/365.
When an unattended child (or children) are discovered in a casino parking lot, the PSP is immediately alerted. If it is an infant or a child who cannot open the door, the PSP has the authority to break into the vehicle to let the child out. All PSP are trained in First Aid and CPR. Most casinos have EMTs on property who accompany the PSP when there is an unattended child.
“First and foremost, we ensure the safety of the child,” said PSP Director/Department Public Information Officer Corporal Brent Miller.
For some Pennsylvania casinos, the parking lot is the jurisdiction of the municipal police department. In that case, the PSP gets in contact to inform them of the situation. If the PSP are the primary jurisdiction, they can decide to file charges. If the incident occurs in a municipal police jurisdiction, it would be up to them to decide to file charges.
Miller also pointed that civilians can break into a car if a child is in danger. He explained Title 42 which pertains to rescue from a motor vehicle says in part:
No person shall be liable for damage to a motor vehicle caused by entry into for the purpose of removing an individual if the person:
- Has good faith, reasonable belief that the individual is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed.
- Determines the person is unable to exit without assistance
- Makes a reasonable effort to locate the driver and contact law enforcement
Leaving kids in cars lands casino patrons on exclusion list
At the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board monthly meetings, it is a common occurrence for someone to end up on the involuntary exclusion list for leaving their child in a car in a casino parking lot.
During the April 2021 PGCB meeting, Jameila Mack was put on the involuntary exclusion list for allegedly leaving her two children, ages 12 and 5, unattended in her vehicle for two hours while she gambled at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino.
At the July 2021 PGCB meeting, Samy Hassan landed on involuntary exclusion list for allegedly leaving his 11-year old unattended while he played at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem for two hours and six minutes. He was permanently evicted from Wind Creek and no charges were filed.
Zachary Bohinski, a pastor at Fells Methodist Church, is facing felony charges for leaving his 3-year-old and 1-year-old, alone in a car at the parking lot at Live! Casino Pittsburgh in early August.
“While he was there, he went to Guy Fieri’s restaurant and ordered something called trash can nachos,” said trooper Stephen Limani.
Bohinski then played at slot machines where he hit for $1,600.
When he returned to his car, authorities were waiting for him.
“You’re not allowed to leave children unattended in a vehicle,” said Limani.
A PGCB commissioner since 2017, Sean Logan is the definition of sick and tired of hearing similar instances nearly every month at meeting. Logan responds with questions, anger and most of all, a plea for action. In a PlayPennsylvania interview about kids in cars at casinos a few months ago, he said:
“It always seems to be another patron passing the car and noticing a kid is unattended. Our luck is going to end. We are going to run out of time.”
PA Gaming regulators ramp up efforts
Corporal Brent Miller said the reason for the August 6 tweet was to get the word out to people who patronize casinos that it is “inappropriate and potentially illegal” if they leave their children unattended when they come to a casino.
A few months ago, the PSP advised all PA casinos that all troopers on the property need to be notified of all circumstances of unattended children on casino property. Additional measures are being taken.
Kevin O’Toole, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control, commented to PlayPennsylvania:
“We’ve been working to raise awareness of this problem. The PGCB has been working with each casino in PA and are requesting a number of properties to provide greater details regarding their process and making sure proper notifications are made when they learn of unattended children. We are making sure security personnel respond as soon as possible and get to the location as quickly as possible. We’ve also talked to casinos about reviewing and enhancing their signage about children being left unattended.”
“By the grace of God a kid hasn’t died yet”
During the public hearing on the proposed casino at Nittany Mall at State College, PA gaming regulators had the opportunity to question Bally’s which partnered with Ira Lubert, for the mini-casinoPen.
“You are going to inherit a problem I can’t understand how we, as a board, can’t solve. I think this past year we have seen all the interested parties start to row in the same direction. But we have a problem of individuals leaving kids in cars at casinos. It’s a huge problem. By the grace of God a kid hasn’t died yet. Every day I think we are going to get a call. You need to think of how you are going to combat that.”
Eric Pearson, who will serve as CEO of the new mini-casino (and was formerly the CEO of Valley Forge Casino) responded:
“We share the same concerns. For us and this development, we have a flat lot that will be patrolled constantly and will also have surveillance . Making sure everyone is safe is an important cornerstone of how we operate.”
A tough problem to solve
In an interview with PlayPennsylvania, Logan reiterated that all parties (the PGCB, casinos, enforcement council, PSP, and local police) are now “rowing in the same direction” in terms of taking action on kids being left in cars.
“If we could wave a magic wand and not have parents and grandparents be assholes that would go a long way. It’s not okay to leave your child in a car or in a hotel room. It’s just not okay.”
Since there will always be bad parents, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate the problem.
Security is not stationed at every entrance and exit at casino parking lots. Also, at night children tend to lay on the backseat of cars making them more difficult to spot. Even if security were stationed at each entry point, a person who wanted to gamble bad enough might park a few minutes away and still leave their kid in a car and walk to the casino.
Kids being left unattended in cars isn’t just a seasonal problem although heat presents an extreme danger. A kid can choke on a cookie, strangle themselves with a seatbelt, open the door and walk through the parking lot, get abducted…the list of nightmare scenarios goes on. As Logan says after the facts are read of instances of a child being left unattended, “a whole lot of bad can happen to a kid in a few minutes.”
Whether the PGCB orders the casinos to add more signage or casinos decide to increase parking lot patrols, it is unlikely it will completely eliminate the problem but it might lower the number of instances. And when it comes to casinos, all parties involved know that their luck will run out soon if they don’t do something.
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