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Monica Yant Kinney: Maybe Bensalem's Parx Casino should hire babysitters

If I were serious about drafting a plan for life after newspapers, I'd scout and incorporate strip-mall space near area casinos for a chain of drop-in 24/7 child-care centers.

If I were serious about drafting a plan for life after newspapers, I'd scout and incorporate strip-mall space near area casinos for a chain of drop-in 24/7 child-care centers.

I'd call my company something cute like Little Winners or Slots for Tots. And I'd insist on payment up front, since everyone knows most gamblers leave empty-handed.

The demand is definitely there at Bensalem's Parx Casino, where parents keep abandoning their kids to wager the days and nights away.

On Thursday, state legislators, a mayor, a police director, and casino execs held a news conference announcing their solution to the summer scourge: legislation that would make dumping kids to play craps a felony.

"One child left unattended is too many," said Parx's general counsel, Thomas Bonner. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Only it did, three hours later, when Trenton mechanic Alexander Salter Jr. shut his 12-year-old grandson in an SUV for a half-hour without keys, air-conditioning, or water. The temperature outside: an astonishing 94 degrees.

In case you've lost count, Salter joins a losers club of seven adults accused of endangering 13 children - including a 15-month-old - during the region's hottest summer in history.

At this point, the only thing more shocking than the fact that no one died is that the politicians who thought casinos would be swell neighbors never anticipated such desperation and depravity.

"Of all the problems we thought about that were going to happen," said State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks), "this is one thing that was probably inconceivable."

Confession time

If we're making confessions, I laughed when I heard that DiGirolamo and State Sen. Robert "Tommy" Tomlinson, a fellow Bucks Republican, seek tougher criminal sanctions to end the freak show. The legislators believe the prospect of seven years behind bars - plus a lifetime of scorn and slammed doors - will somehow deter adults from losing their minds.

That presumes an ability to think logically after you've blown the rent and diaper money. These parents aren't focused on the future. They're obsessed with the action, convinced their luck will change.

Parx's kid-in-car-crisis is reminiscent of the hand-wringing after an unattended 7-year-old girl was raped and strangled in 1997 at the Primadonna casino in Nevada. As it did then, the casino industry profits from mixed messages, luring families in the door with shows and water parks but banning children from the gaming floor.

Lost in the uproar over a developer's plans for a casino in Gettysburg? That the $75 million Mason-Dixon resort aims to be super-duper kid-friendly with a "virtual-reality thrill ride," a 36-hole mini-golf course, batting cages, and go-kart tracks.

Family fun?

In Pennsylvania, minors can own a casino but can't wager in one. The gaming law allows kids to help Pop pick the ponies at racetracks but bars them from sitting on his lap while he feeds their college savings into slot machines.

Believe it or not, the babysitting idea came up at the news conference, much to officials' horror.

"I don't think we want to go there," Tomlinson sniffed.

"That was tried in Atlantic City," Bonner explained, referring to child-care centers inside Harrah's and Trump Taj Mahal. "It was discontinued because it wasn't very effective."

Parx, Bonner added, goes beyond state law by refusing to let children set foot inside its main casino building. The corporate philosophy is firm: Gambling "is a form of adult entertainment."

Investigators said Salter, 60, had been up $100 on the slots. If only the win had been more fun for his grandson. Because a casino-loving grown-up fumbled, the steaming boy also missed football practice.