For years, casinos have gotten a bad reputation for bringing out the worst in problem gamblers. This latest story out of Pennsylvania will surely draw the same attention from anti-gambling activists, yet it was the deplorable decision of one Philadelphia man that should be drawing the negative attention. I’m referring to 30 year old Maurice Cook, who plead guilty to leaving his three young children, ages 1, 5 and 8, alone in the car outside the Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort while he spent 45 minutes playing blackjack.
The incident occurred on the morning of August 20, 2014 when Mr. Cook admitted to leaving his three children, including an infant, in his GMC Envoy while he spent 45 minutes at the casino’s blackjack tables. Court documents stated that the vehicle was parked in the parking garage of the Sands Bethlehem. It wasn’t until a passerby happened to notice the children in the SUV, minus the accompaniment of an adult, that police were notified of the situation. The call came in at approximately 10:15 that morning.
Cook appeared before President Judge Stephen Baratta of the Northampton County Court earlier this week. The father offered what seemed to be a sincere apology for his actions, claiming that he only wanted to win enough money that he could treat his children to a fun day together. “I was thinking good,” said Cook. “I wasn’t thinking about the bad.”
Judge Baratta was incensed by Cook’s statement. “You were thinking good?” the judge fired back. “You weren’t thinking good enough!”
Defense Attorney Christopher Shipman told a different tale to the court. According to Shipman, Cook is a blackjack player with a severe gambling addiction. The defense brought up Cook’s past as well, which included a retail theft charge that resulted in his being on probation at the time of the blackjack incident in August.
Following closing arguments, the judge had a lot to say to Maurice Cook, first pointing out how lucky the father was that his three children are safe and sound. At their young ages, a number of tragedies could have occurred during the 45 minute span Cook was too busy playing blackjack. For instance, Judge Baratta asked what if the 5 year old had opened the door and let the 1 year old infant out of the car? Cook, understanding that the results would clearly have been devastating, was unable to offer a response.
According to Philadelphia police, none of the children were injured during the incident. Cook told the judge that, since his arrest, they have all been in the sole custody of their mother, and that the Division of Children, Youth and Families has been actively involved in the situation. Coincidentally, while growing up, Maurice Cook was a temporary resident of the Children’s Home of Easton, PA.
“It’s a bit ironic that you were in placement and because of your behavior,” said Judge Baratta, “your children could have been in placement.” Instead, recognizing Cook’s genuine regret for his actions, the judge sentenced Cook to time served for the reckless endangerment of another person. He was ordered to take parenting classes and get counseling for gambling addiction. Cook will spend one more week in Northampton County Prison for violation of probation due to a previous shop lifting charge.