A proposed specialized court for gambling-related offenses in New Jersey is getting increasing support from professionals in the field. They argue it provides a much-needed alternative to incarceration.
It is based on Nevada’s groundbreaking Gambling Treatment Diversion Court (GTDC), which was set up by Judge Cheryl Moss. Eligible defendants in Nevada are given counseling and other support during a one- to three-year supervised period.
“Nevada’s … GTDC has proved to be an effective therapeutic alternative to incarceration for individuals who have committed a crime in the course of their gambling addiction,” Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, told Casino.org.
Just like other specialty courts, [the] GTDC recognizes the need to treat the underlying addiction or mental health disorder, while simultaneously holding the participant accountable for the consequences of their crime,” O’Hare said. That includes making financial restitution to any victims.
It is an option to prison where those with gambling addictions will likely receive no specialized counseling and have many opportunities to keep on gambling with fellow inmates, she said.
“Punishing the gambler through incarceration may give victims an immediate sense of justice being served, but in reality when a problem gambler goes to prison, everyone does time,” O’Hare said. “The victims must wait for the gambler to complete their sentence before any financial restitution can begin, and the gambler’s earning potential upon release will be negatively impacted due to the felony conviction.”
The bill to establish the New Jersey GTDC is pending in the state legislature. It is Bill No. 3976 in the state Senate and Bill No. 5604 in the Assembly. Among its most vocal supporters are: Assemblymen Daniel Benson, D-Hamilton Square, and Ralph Caputo, D-Belleville.
Not Prevention Program
Daniel J. Trolaro, assistant executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, notes the proposed gambling court is “not necessarily designed to reduce problem gambling, as it is not a prevention program.
“Rather, it seeks to put … a focus on treatment and rehabilitation instead of incarceration and warehousing,” Trolaro told Casino.org. “Modeled in a way after the very successful program in Nevada and drug court programs in other states, it recognizes that addiction is an illness that requires care and treatment instead of going to prison where gambling occurs on a regular basis.”
Participants receive the help, support, and treatment they need while under a judge’s supervision in an effort to improve their life and to make amends, Trolaro said.
The gambling court would, for the first time, provide some alternative for previously law-abiding citizens who offend due only to their gambling addiction,” Lia Nower, director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work, further told Casino.org.
“Those individuals should have the same opportunities as others with substance-based addictions,” she added.
Leave It To Mental Health Professionals
Similar support comes from Attorney Stephen D. Schrier, who co-chairs Blank Rome’s gaming law practice group and formerly was Deputy Attorney General for New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“As a lawyer in the gaming regulatory space, I am pleased to see that the legislature is seeking to take steps to address how problem gaming impacts the individual with the addiction, and that they are not relying on the gaming regulators to address this,” Schrier said.
“Gaming regulators are not equipped to deal with the individuals that need support…. It should be up to professional mental health experts to determine whether an individual is affected by problem gambling, and how to address that in our society.”
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