Legislation that for the first time would allow the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to assess fines against a casino for failing to report an incident of child abandonment on its premises or for failing to post signs warning of the legal ramifications of such behavior passed a House committee Wednesday in Harrisburg.
Both bills, sponsored by Rep. Michael O'Brien (D., Philadelphia), received unanimous support in the House Gaming Oversight Committee and now advance to a floor vote. Their impetus: Ten instances in which parents left children unattended in parked vehicles at Parx Casino & Racetrack in Bensalem while they gambled inside.
The reported incidents occurred between February 2010 and July of this year and cast an unflattering glare on the state's top-grossing casino.
"It's been a concern of the gaming board," O'Brien said in an interview Wednesday, "but they hadn't had the [legislative] piece to do anything about it. . . . And this gives them that."
House Bill 120 prohibits any driver from leaving a child younger than 14 unattended in a vehicle on property owned, leased, or controlled by a casino. If caught, the individual would be ejected from the casino and charged with a third-degree misdemeanor for the first offense, a second-degree misdemeanor for later incidents.
Law enforcement would be required to notify child and youth agencies within 48 hours. Casinos failing to report incidents would be subject to Gaming Control Board fines of $75,000 to $150,000 for a first offense, $150,000 to $300,000 for later offenses.
Under House Bill 121, casinos would be required to post easy-to-see signs warning against leaving children unattended in parking areas, and would face fines of $1,000 a day for each day such signs had gone unposted.
Anyone caught leaving a child unattended while gambling would be placed on an exclusion list.
"My hope is that the possibility of being excluded from all casinos in the commonwealth will be enough of a deterrent," O'Brien said.
The issue hits home, he said, because his father was a compulsive gambler who left him unattended.
"Casinos want to be good and responsible neighbors," said O'Brien. "But we also must recognize that looking the other way might be easier for them, financially or otherwise. It is imperative to establish a strong disincentive for such actions."