A 14-month-old girl was left alone in a running car for about 30 minutes Monday afternoon while her father was gambling inside Harrington Raceway & Casino, police said.
State police charged the father, Justin Middleton, 26, of Preston, Md., with first-degree reckless endangering, unattended motor vehicle and parking in a handicapped space without a permit, said Master Cpl. Gary Fournier.
Abandonment at casinos by gambling parents is a national problem that can have deadly results, Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, said Tuesday night.
"There's deaths every summer," he said.
Gamblers may intend to leave kids in their cars for a 5-minute run into a casino, Whyte said, "but five hours later, they're still there."
Their preoccupation or obsession and the loss of the sense of time while gambling can lead to "tragic consequences" for their children and families, he said.
Whyte said it sounds like "a matter of luck" that the baby was found safe Monday outside Harrington Raceway and Casino.
About noon, the manager alerted police that a baby was in a car parked in a handicapped spot with the engine running, Fournier said.
The manager told police a patron had spotted the 2012 Ford Fusion running, then saw the baby in a car seat, he said.
According to court records, the car seat was "in an upside down position on the floor behind the front passenger seat."
A green sweatshirt covered the baby's lower body, police said, noting that the sweatshirt could have shifted and suffocated the baby.
The car was not locked and troopers easily removed the baby, who did not appear to be in distress or need medical attention, Fournier said.
Casino officials paged the vehicle's owner and 90 minutes later Middleton was arrested at the car, police said. Investigators viewed the casino's surveillance footage to determine how long the child was left alone before being removed by troopers, Fournier said.
Middleton initially denied leaving his daughter in the car.
According to court records, he told troopers the baby's mother had "abandoned her while he was gambling inside the casino." He later acknowledged he had lied, admitting he left the baby in the car while he was gambling.
The baby was turned over to a relative in the Harrington area until the mother could pick her up, Fournier said.
Middleton was committed to Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna after failing to post $2,505 secured bail. He also was ordered to have no contact with his daughter.
Five years ago, a 33-year-old Wilmington woman was arrested for endangering the welfare of a child when she left her 12-year-old son alone in the car for more than two hours as she gambled at Delaware Park in Stanton.
The mother told police she was trying to win money so she could take her son to the movies.
Discovery of children left in hot cars outside casinos is "a tragic rite of summer," Whyte said.
Parents' gambling addiction may be so strong that they do not realize or care that their children could die or be abducted when left in cars in casino parking lots, anti-casino advocate John Ribeiro of Massachusetts said Tuesday night.
The problem of addicted parents leaving children in cars while they gamble is so widespread that many casinos post signs in their parking lots warning them of the dangers and penalties, he said.
Ribeiro, who chairs the statewide "Repeal the Casino Deal" group in Massachusetts, said his state's law passed in 2011 to allow casinos — yet to open — "would require casinos to patrol parking lots to look for children left in cars."
His group's website cites five cases this summer of child abandonment at state-sponsored casinos, with a dozen children left by parents.
In a Pennsylvania case, a father was charged Aug. 20 with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child after he left three children — 1, 5 and 8 years old — in his car while gambling at the Sands Bethlehem.
The man, who was playing blackjack, admitted he has a gambling addiction and left the kids in his car, The Morning Call of Allentown reported, noting that the man told police, "I am sorry for what I did."