A new era of gambling and sports betting is rolling in Pennsylvania. With it comes increased tax revenue and more resources for gambling addiction and prevention. While the state is working to promote responsible gambling online and in casinos, there aren’t many options for people who have been convicted of gambling-related felonies.
One solution comes from Nevada, where the nation’s first gambling treatment diversion court (GTDC) was introduced in 2018. The rigorous program is an alternative to prison for defendants and gives them a chance to dedicate themselves to recovery.
The first presiding judge of the Nevada court, retired Judge Cheryl Moss, is eyeing expansion to nearby states like New Jersey. Will Pennsylvania lawmakers consider bringing it to the Keystone State?
What is a gambling treatment diversion court?
Specialty diversion courts already exist in the US to deal with matters like substance abuse offenses, mental health cases, and juvenile delinquency. The gambling treatment diversion court was modeled after these initiatives, where offenders have to meet certain criteria to enter.
A person who commits a crime, and the crime was “in furtherance” of a gambling a gambling addiction explained Moss. The crime has to be a felony, with the exceptions of crimes of violence, crimes against children, domestic violence, sexual crimes, and if the person has two or more prior felonies and the nature of those felony convictions.
The ideal participant typically goes through treatment while awaiting the outcome of their case. If eligible, they go through another round of treatment as well as random drug testing, support groups, and regular meetings with their judge to focus on restitution and other areas of need. Moss describes the participants she saw as “extremely compliant, dedicated to their recovery, and [leading] healthy lives.”
Do gambling courts work?
The gambling treatment diversion court is young, and treatment can last up to three years. So, there isn’t much concrete data on the viability of the court yet. Because the GTDC takes after other specialty courts already established across the country, there’s reason to believe it can be successful.
There are several “graduates” of Nevada’s Clark County court already, and judges continue to recommend people for the court. Although Moss no longer works for the court, she said she knew of 11 participants currently enrolled. Two more expect to graduate in 2022.
Will PA get a gambling diversion court?
Moss is already working with lawyers in Philadelphia to bring the idea to PA Supreme Court Justices, one of whom she says is already aware and supportive of it.
“If the PA judiciary, particularly the PA Supreme Court, is very supportive and knowledgeable on specialty courts and promotes ways to provide people help, treatment, and save the state of Pennsylvania money, then the likelihood of success increases,” she said.
Still, the court took years to get off the ground in Nevada. The idea dates back to 2009 and took so long to initiate due to “lack of awareness.” Will Pennsylvanians with gambling addictions have to wait that long for this opportunity in their state?
Not likely, says Moss. Nevada judiciaries are willing to share resources and collaborate with Pennsylvania lawmakers to establish a court instead of waiting for legislation to pass, which can take much longer. New Jersey and Pennsylvania will also be able to use Nevada’s first court as a model the same way it used specialty courts as a base.
Challenges such as funding and training personnel will undoubtedly take up time, but another decade seems improbable.
How will a gambling treatment diversion court benefit Pennsylvania?
The most obvious benefit to all this is money. It takes money to house inmates, and a diversion court keeps people out of the prison system. Pennsylvania is much bigger than Las Vegas, so the savings could reach into the millions each year.
The court also prevents repeat offenders. Participants who graduated from the program are less likely to commit crimes in the future thanks to the court’s training and treatment.
“A person who is just thrown into prison will receive no gambling treatment as no such programs exist in the US prisons, state and federal alike. When they get out, they might not know about seeking gambling treatment, and chances are they will land back in criminal court again.” Awareness is another great bonus. Moss hopes that a GTDC can support prevention programs in schools and for athletes. Family members of those with a gambling addiction also avoid further consequences when the breadwinner of their family stays out of prison.”
“GTDC is a shining light of hope for them when they realize they want to get help,” said Moss.
Remember to gamble responsibly
A diversion court can save lives, but it’s not an excuse to ignore responsible gambling guidelines. Here are some resources available:
- Call 1-800-Gambler
- Resources available at Pennsylvania Gaming Control responsible gambling website
- Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania
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