Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Unattended kids, stiffer penalties?

Published report explores incidents at riverboat casinos

The Associated Press

        INDIANAPOLIS — Parents or other guardians left children unattended 37 times at Indiana riverboat casinos during the past 14 months, a published report said.

        The Courier-Journal of Louisville said its review of Indiana Gaming Commission records found about 70 children were left unattended in the 37 episodes since May 1999, when the state first began compiling such information.

        It does not appear that any of the children suffered serious injury, the newspaper reported Tuesday. In one case, an infant had to be revived with oxygen, it said.

        Casino officials noted Indiana's nine riverboats received more than 18 million patrons in 1999 and that children also are left unattended occasionally at other places such as shopping malls.

        A state senator and the executive director of the Indiana Youth Institute said prosecutors should press for stiff penalties against anyone caught leaving children alone.

        “This is a perfect example of how stupid people can be,” said Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne. “Prosecutors need to make some example of some of these people.”

        Bill Stanczykiewicz, executive director of the nonprofit Indiana Youth Institute, said he hopes Indiana leaders encourage prosecutors to impose stiff penalties and consider ordering parents into treatment.

        “Any time kids are left alone, it's neglect, pure and simple,” he said. “The state should pursue any of these cases as child neglect.”

        Casino operators and gaming regulators say they can't control parents' irresponsible behavior and that they discourage people from visiting a casino with children in tow.

        “The boats are embarrassed, but at least they're doing something about it,” said Jack Thar, the gaming commission's executive director.

        In most of the cases, unattended children were discovered by casino security personnel and their parents quickly located, the Courier-Journal said.

        Under Indiana law, no one under 21 is allowed inside a casino, and although children can come inside a pavilion to eat or look around with an adult, casino security crews are instructed to warn patrons that children are not to be left unattended.

        On July 9, a Virginia woman was arrested after leaving six children inside a sport-utility vehicle while gambling at the Caesars casino in Harrison County.

        The one Indiana case in which a child suffered trauma occurred in May 1999 at the Blue Chip casino in Michigan City. Diane Simac of Westville was arrested and charged with child neglect after leaving her 3-month-old daughter in a locked car with the windows rolled up. The infant was revived after receiving oxygen.

        Ms. Simac told police she boarded the vessel to cash in some tokens and couldn't get off when the boat left the dock for its two-hour cruise.


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