Casino abandonment rate triples

By Edward Gay

There were a total of 54 incidents of children being abandoned at SkyCity in 2011. Photo / File
There were a total of 54 incidents of children being abandoned at SkyCity in 2011. Photo / File

The number of cases of children found abandoned at Auckland's SkyCity has almost tripled in two years.

There were 54 incidents of children being left unattended in 2011, compared with 46 in 2010 and just 19 the year before, according to the Department of Internal Affairs,

The figures emerged as parents who left five children locked in a van while they gambled at the SkyCity Casino reappeared at the Auckland District Court.

The 39-year-old man and 29-year-old woman cannot be named because they have been granted interim name suppression to protect their children.

Their lawyers indicated they would be seeking permanent name suppression. The father also applied for a discharge without conviction. If successful the offence would not be recorded on his criminal record.

SkyCity spokesman Gordon Jon Thompson said the casino had a "zero tolerance policy" to children under the age of 14 being left alone.

"We take the issue very seriously. We call the police if we discover that a parent [or] guardian has been gaming."

He said the Department of Internal Affairs was notified every time that happened and the parent was excluded from the casino. Often they are unaware of the under-14 policy.

Mr Thompson said security patrols had been increased but did not answer questions about the increase in cases of abandonment or whether the casino was planning to provide childcare services.

Andree Froude from the Problem Gambling Foundation said the casino had a responsibility as a host and it was important they made sure children were safe.

She said the court case was a good example of what happens when people get hooked on pokie machines.

The parents were arrested after police found five children aged between five months and eight years locked in a van in the SkyCity carpark in February.

Not all the children were theirs.

The couple have both pleaded guilty to one charge of leaving a child under the age of 14 without adequate supervision.

Judge Ema Aitken told the pair that while the issue was of public interest, their identities were not.

"Even if there was an interest, that interest is far outweighed by the interests of your children."

Judge Aitken said the children were the victims of their parents' crime and could be re-victimised and subjected to "taunting and teasing" in the school playground if their parents' names were made public.

The man's lawyer, Kyle Bendall, said his client had attended 16 counselling sessions and had two more to do. He said the man was keen to have the matter dealt with.

Judge Aitken said she would sentence both defendants next month.

It has previously been reported that surveillance footage shows the children were left for about 45 minutes before being found by a passing couple. The woman who found them said at the time the children were clearly distressed.

"I could see this little toddler up against the window screaming and banging," she told TVNZ's Close Up.

She said she could see a little boy trying to calm a baby.

"He was looking at me [shaking his head], 'no, no, no', and he had a cellphone in his hand."

Security guards worked with police to free them and they were put into the care of Child Youth and Family.

The agency's regional director Sharon Thom said today the children have contact with their mother who is making "improvements to her parenting".

"I can reassure you that any decisions about their future care arrangements will be based on the best interests of the children."

Incidents* of children found abandoned at SkyCity
2009: 19

2010: 46

2011: 54

*Incidents can relate to more than one child

- APNZ

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