Kids left in cars at casinos [Commentary]

Special kind of neglect has its own category on reports

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Alicia Brown is accused of leaving her 4-year-old daughter unattended in a car while she spent more than eight hours inside the Maryland Live Casino during the day on New Year's Eve.

When security guards found the little girl, she was cold, wet, hungry and crying. The back windows of the car had been covered over with blankets, presumably so that the child would not easily be seen.

Security cameras show that the 24-year-old Baltimore mother arrived at about 10 a.m. It was after 6:30 p.m. when she returned to find security and medical personnel with her daughter.

She was charged with confining an unattended child, second-degree child abuse and neglect of a minor and taken to Anne Arundel County jail. After a medical examination, the little girl was released to her grandmother. Alicia Brown made the $150,000 bond and was released.

Maryland Live would not discuss its security procedures when asked by Baltimore Sun reporters, but it appears that security guards patrol the parking areas around that casino and others looking for more than patrons with dead batteries or car thieves.

They are looking for children left in cars while adults are inside gambling.

Each of the casinos in Maryland is required to report on a variety of incidents, from underage patrons to fist fights to the number of drunks tossed out.

One of those categories is "children unattended in vehicles." Through November of 2013, four children were reported left in vehicles at Maryland's four casinos. Alicia Brown's little girl makes five, the second at Maryland Live.

In addition, there is an organization called Casino Watch that keeps track of news stories about children left unattended in vehicles at casinos, and it is a shockingly long list.

Two children are found at 1 a.m. in Missouri casino parking lot while their grandparents are gambling. Three toddlers are left in a van for 11 hours by their day care provider. A woman left two toddlers in a car outside a convenience store while she played video poker.

A disabled child, a 5-week-old baby. More than 140 children left in cars at casinos in New Zealand in two years.

In some of the news reports, the children, like Alicia Brown's daughter, are in cars in the bitter cold. In others, the children are found in cars that have become hot boxes.

How does this happen?

Gambling addiction can have such a strong pull, that some people are willing to put their kids at risk to do it. Experts explain that out-of-control gamblers then literally lose track of time. They slip into a trance-like state, and there is no clock there. How else to explain why anyone would think it was OK to leave a toddler in a car for 15 minutes, much less eight hours?

The news story of Alicia Brown and her daughter went viral pretty quickly, and some of the comments posted by readers were vile. Several called for the forced sterilization of this woman.

Others took the opportunity to point out that this is what you get when you legalize gambling. Still others predicted that the new casino going up in Baltimore City would become the ninth circle of Hell.

It is tempting to feel like a superior parent when you read about mothers like Alicia Brown. And to feel like a superior person when you witness the chaos caused by someone else's addiction. The comfort and contentment we feel at these moments is not our most attractive human quality.

I don't ask for sympathy for Alicia Brown, because I don't feel much for her. I just hope the system works for a change and the child is protected and the mother finds effective treatment. I am not optimistic.

But I would ask our lawmakers and our governor this: When you brought legalized gambling to Maryland, did you know there was a separate category on the incident reports for "children unattended in vehicles?" Did that bother you at all?

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.


To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.
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