PLAINVILLE, Mass. - Kelsi Costa had a bad feeling as soon as she saw the car.
"I had to say something," the Cumberland native thought as she walked into Twin River Casino nearly two years ago.
Costa and her mother spotted the vehicle, engine running, parked near the back of the casino parking lot.
Inside the car, officers said, were an 11-year-old, a 3-year-old and an infant.
"If I was a parent, I could never, would never do that,” Costa said.
Police later determined the parents left their children alone for almost two hours while they gambled inside Twin River.
The Woonsocket couple was charged with neglect, although the charges were eventually dropped because, according to police records, “there hasn’t been any habitual offenses with the family on record.”
Through multiple open record requests, Boston 25 News discovered 14 incidents of children left unattended at Twin River in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, Massachusetts since 2016.
With MGM Springfield opening last August, and Encore Boston Harbor launching in Everett this spring, advocates are wary of what an influx of casinos could mean for families across New England, particularly families dealing with a gambling addiction.
"Leaving children unattended in a car at a gaming facility would be a huge red flag," for signs of addiction, said Marlene Warner, the executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.
"Kids don't belong in a casino. Plain and simple,” Warner said. "A casino you're not just running in for something. You're running in and inevitably you're going to spend more time than you think.”
In August, Lincoln Police arrested 26-year-old Halston Borglund after investigators said she left a 3-month-old outside Twin River.
Officers said the baby was left under a blanket for 90 minutes with the car running and the window down.
Three months later, Jose Funes was charged with leaving his 4-year-old daughter in a locked car with the engine off. Temperatures that night were in the mid-thirties, according to police.
An officer noted Funes “appeared to be intoxicated” and the girl “was crying and appeared to be frightened.”
The advocacy group KidsAndCars.org tracks cases nationwide and found more than 300 reports of children left in cars at casinos since 1999.
A spokesperson for the group said that number is just the “tip of the iceberg” because the organization bases its figures off published media reports, and many cases are not covered in the news.
"Anyone who does this, they will get arrested and they could potentially lose their children, so it's just not worth it," said Ryan Walsh, spokesperson for the Springfield Police Department.
Walsh said there have not been any cases of children left unattended in the four months since MGM Springfield opened its doors. But Walsh said the problem was taken into consideration more than a year ago when Springfield police officials traveled to casinos in Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania.
"One of the things they did mention in Allentown is a few times a year, two or three times a year, there is a kid that's in a car in their parking garage, that they need to let out," Walsh said.
"There's a significant concern about unattended children," admits Mass State Police Lieutenant Brian Connors.
Connors heads the state’s Gaming Enforcement Unit, which works with local police departments to enforce Massachusetts gaming laws.
There are specific laws in Massachusetts when it comes to children and casinos. No one under 21 can walk onto a casino floor, and if you leave an unattended child outside, you could be charged with neglect and permanently ejected from the facility.
Massachusetts law also requires casinos to conduct regular checks of parking lots and garages for “minors left in motor vehicles and immediately report” the cases to state and local police.
Connors says security guards and police are always keeping an eye open for illegal activity outside the gaming houses.
“We’re there 24/7 so we’re able to immediately respond and address [cases involving kids] and conduct an investigation,” Connors said.
Investigators also rely on the help from witnesses like Kelsi Costa, who saw three kids in a car and immediately reported it to Twin River security.
“Something so innocent and pure that doesn't have a say, for [parents] to just leave them in the car to go gamble, that’s the biggest thing,” Costa said, still frustrated two years later.
“You couldn't leave them with a mom or a grandma or something?” she said.
Multiple calls and emails to Encore Boston Harbor spokesman Greg John went unanswered.
TWIN RIVER CASINO in Lincoln, Rhode Island
Sept. 13, 2016- Father left four of his children unattended in a car for 22 minutes while he “was looking for his wife who was playing inside Twin River…both husband and wife were given permanent ejections.”
Jan. 30, 2017- Guest reported three children (11, 3 and 8 months old) left alone in a car. “Two adults left the vehicle and entered the casino leaving the children in the vehicle with the keys in the ignition.” Police said the children were left for two hours and the Director of Security issued permanent ejections.
Mar. 25, 2018- 12-year-old boy locked out of his father’s car, found “abandoned at the entrance” of the casino after midnight. The child told he’d been outside the casino door since 10 p.m. His parents are permanently ejected from the casino.
Aug. 15, 2018- Guest reported there was a car running with “a small baby inside crying with the windows open.” The 26-year-old mother, Halston Borglund and the baby’s grandmother were arrested. Police said the 3-month-old girl was alone for 90 minutes. The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families took custody of the child.
Nov. 10, 2018- 27-year-old Jose Funes was arrested after police said he left a 4-year-old girl alone in his parked car. The child “was crying and appeared to be frightened,” and the car was locked with the engine shut off according to investigators. The officer noted the temperature was 36 degrees at the time. Funes “who appeared to be intoxicated, acknowledged he left his daughter in the car alone,” according to a police media release.
PLAINRIDGE PARK CASINO in Plainview, Mass.
Aug. 4, 2018- Father received 30-day eviction for leaving minor son unattended in front of valet.
July 28, 2018- Person received 30-day for leaving two minors unattended for 25 minutes.
July 27, 2018- Two minors entered the property at the garage entrance with two adults. The minors did not gain access to the casino floor and were in the garage for approx. 16 minutes.
July 23, 2018- Three minors left unattended for 1 hour 7 minutes in a car in the parking garage.
July 7, 2018- Parents left two children unattended in a van for 12 minutes while they gambled and ate food. No ejections or evictions were given.
June 29, 2018- Adult received 30-day eviction for leaving two children in the backseat of a van for 1 hour 50 minutes.
May 11, 2018- Unattended minor left alone in car for 4 minutes. No action was taken.
Oct. 9, 2017—Guardian given 30-day eviction after leaving four children unattended in a car for 25 minutes.
Apr. 23, 2016- Mother left her two sons unattended in her car for a total of 75 minutes in the parking garage.
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