It just baffles him, Paul Vargas says, that two more adults were arrested recently on charges they left children alone in vehicles outside while they gambled at Parx.
"I guess they weren't paying attention to the news and they didn't see what happened to me," said Vargas, a 35-year-old father who went to jail last August for doing the same thing.
The decision to leave his two sons, then 12 and 7, in his white Ford Explorer as he went inside the Bensalem casino to play blackjack put Vargas behind bars for 70 days, landed him on probation for three months, and cost him a $300 fine and a stint in court-ordered parenting classes.
Parx surveillance cameras recorded Vargas parking the Explorer at 10:16 p.m., with the two kids and his dog inside, then entering the casino alone. At 10:26, video footage shows Vargas leaving. He was met at his car by a casino security guard and three Bensalem police cars.
"I walked out to a world that I couldn't believe I was walking into," he said last week. "I couldn't believe things could change that quickly in 10 minutes."
According to Vargas and the Parx police report, the boys were taken to the Bensalem police station for questioning: Had their father been drinking? Did he gamble often? How long were they in the car? Then they were placed into their grandfather's custody.
Vargas spent the night in a holding cell. He was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of children and driving with a suspended license from a past DUI offense. If found guilty, he faced the possibility of 21/2 to 5 years in jail for each count of child endangerment, which stunned him.
"I felt like that was what they gave you for beating your kids," he said. "And the bail - $250,000 - was ridiculously high. It wasn't even bail. It was like ransom.
"My kids were so upset. It was traumatizing for them to be taken by police . . . and they saw their dad on TV," Vargas said Monday, as he walked his pet pit bull with his wife, Rosalynn, and their two sons outside their Bensalem condominium - less than two miles from Parx.
A construction worker, Vargas remained in jail for more than two months, waiting for his bail to be lowered - first to $25,000, then $10,000. Ultimately, he agreed to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and waive his preliminary hearing. He served an additional 90 days on the DUI/license suspension, court records show.
On Dec. 16, Vargas was placed on Parx's exclusionary list by the state Gaming Control Board, thus barred from entering the casino again.
As of Friday, 10 adults had been arrested for leaving children in the Parx parking lot as they gambled inside.
And twice now, the state gaming board has summoned Parx officials to provide answers: Why does child abandonment remain a problem there, and does being in a residential neighborhood have something to do with it?
At its Aug. 18 meeting, the board asked Parx to consider implementing other measures, such as additional signs and bike patrols in its vast parking lot.
"Ultimately, this is about parental responsibility," said board chairman Greg C. Fajt, "and these people, quite frankly, failed that responsibility miserably."
Of the 10 adults arrested beginning in mid-February 2010, seven were men and three were women, ranging in age from 29 to 61. Four were white, three Asian, two African American, and one (Vargas) Hispanic. Nine lived in the immediate Philadelphia area, the exception being a man from Trenton.
Based on gambling records provided by Parx at the Aug. 18 gaming board meeting, the majority did not visit the casino frequently.
Vargas certainly doesn't consider himself a problem gambler. He said that he rarely goes to casinos, but that he and wife were having financial problems last year.
The bad economy had cut into construction work. They were short about $200 on their mortgage payment. A lucky blackjack hand, Vargas thought, could quickly make up the difference.
The weather was mild that Wednesday night last August. Vargas and his sons took a break from watching an instructional DVD that came with the Criss Angel magic kit that had arrived in the mail earlier that day and headed to a 7-Eleven on Street Road, about a block from Parx, for chips and sodas.
"Our plan was to take a quick drive and get back home," he recalled.
But on the way back, Vargas said, he saw Parx and couldn't resist. He pulled into the casino's winding entrance, parked, and went to place a "quick bet" at a blackjack table, leaving his boys and the dog behind. He quickly lost $80 and made a beeline for the exit.
"I ran back to the car, and that's when the police pulled up," Vargas said.
Embarrassment followed. All his neighbors knew, Vargas said - they saw his mug shot in the local papers, or saw the nightly news showing police hauling him to jail.
His sons were ridiculed. "Kids at school were saying to them, 'We saw your dad on TV,' " Vargas said. "I felt like I let them down."
Rosalynn Vargas, 33, who goes by Rosie, said her husband is a good man. They've been together 15 years, married the last five.
"He made a bad decision," she said last week, walking by his side. "He is not an unfit parent. He would never hurt his sons. That's not him. It was a very traumatic experience . . . but it has made us stronger as a family."
So far this year, according to Parx chief counsel Thomas Bonner, 2.5 million vehicles have parked at the casino, the state's most profitable.
"We have faced only a few incidents, all of which were quickly detected due to the diligent security and surveillance measures that we implemented last year," he said. "We will continue reviewing our procedures to ensure that we remain able to detect and report such occurrences quickly."
Vargas has some suggestions. Since the racetrack next to Parx allows families, there should be separate entrances, to keep cars with kids out of the casino side.
And definitely, he said, put more signs in the casino parking lot warning adults not to leave their kids in cars - or else face jail time.
"If I saw a sign like that, I would have turned around and left," he said. "Don't do it. It's not worth it. It literally changes your life."