Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

Casino van incident going to court

SkyCity says it has zero tolerance to children being left alone in its car parks. File photo / NZPA
SkyCity says it has zero tolerance to children being left alone in its car parks. File photo / NZPA

The parents alleged to have left their five young children in a locked van while they gambled at Auckand's SkyCity casino have been charged in connection with the incident and will appear in court next month.

Police today confirmed the couple have been charged with leaving their children unattended. They are also understood to be facing domestic violence charges.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said the charge showed neglect would not be tolerated but did not address the core issues.

"The parents were gambling in a casino, weren't they. So until such time as we start addressing the root causes of these kinds of problems, we're just going to keep having them,'' he told APNZ.

Mr Ramsey said the incident was "not a one-off, unfortunately''.

He cited Department of Internal Affairs figures that showed this year there had been 25 other cases parents leaving 46 children alone at casinos around New Zealand.

Mr Ramsey said pokie machines were the cause of more than 70 per cent of the problems the foundation dealt with.

A proposal that would see SkyCity allowed up to 500 gaming machines by the Government in exchange for building a 3500-seat convention centre in downtown Auckland would lead to similar instances of neglect.

"We need to look at how we can make those machines safer and how we can make casino host responsibility systems more effective.''

The children in the SkyCity incident were allegedly left unsupervised in a van in the casino car park for 45 minutes on Sunday, February 26.

Witnesses said the children, aged between five months and eight years, were "screaming their heads off'' inside the stuffy vehicle before police freed them.

The parents were allegedly found gambling on pokie machines inside the casino.

Green Party gambling spokeswoman Denise Roche said she believed the couple were neglecting their children.

"But I think SkyCity casino should also take some responsibility as well. Those parents had loyalty cards - the casino knows how much they've been spending there and was probably able to identify them as problem gamblers before they neglected their children in the car park.''

Ms Roche said loyalty cards wooed people back to the casino even if they had problems.

"A casino relies on problem gambling to make a profit, and they tend to get away with it scot free.''

SkyCity government and industry affairs general manager Peter Treacy said the casino's policy on such incidents was to always contact police, who then decided whether charges would be laid.

"Hopefully this court case will assist in communicating the message that SkyCity has a zero tolerance for children unaccompanied on SkyCity premises.''

A Child, Youth and Family spokesman said the children were in the custody of caregivers, with the parents allowed access under supervision.

"In terms of any decisions around the care of those children, obviously those charges need to play their way through the courts and then further decisions can be made. But at this stage, they will be remaining with their caregiver.''

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