In Nevada, there’s a new alternative for individuals who commit crimes — such as theft or fraud — that are motivated by their gambling addiction. The state has the nation’s only Gambling Treatment Diversion Court (GTDC), which gives these individuals an option to pursue treatment if they plead guilty to nonviolent crimes.

The GTDC is modeled after drug treatment courts, which have proven successful around the country and are now in approximately half the nation’s counties. The Nevada court follows a pilot project in Amherst, New York.

The idea of specialty courts dates back to the 1960s during the Kennedy administration when prisons were getting too crowded, the cost of incarceration was high and rates of recidivism were significant. The theory behind the GTDC is that individuals can get the treatment they need, cease gambling, pay restitution to the aggrieved party, and go on to become productive members of society.

The process for enrolling in the GTDC system begins with a guilty plea in a criminal court. An assessment is then performed to confirm the existence of a gambling addiction and that the crime or crimes committed ultimately stemmed from the gambling addiction. Once the request to enroll is accepted, the applicant must pay a fee and commit to attending the GTDC at a prescribed frequency for a period of up to three years.

During this period of time, the individual must also wear a GPS device to ensure they don’t visit casinos or other places where gambling activity takes place. They must also consent to random drug tests. While many gambling addicts may not be drug users, the drug tests help ward off any “addiction switching” that may occur as a result of ending the gambling addiction.

Court sessions ensure accountability and provide opportunities for support group meetings. Program participants must also work one-on-one with a mental health practitioner specializing in gambling addiction. The participant must pay for this counseling, although loans and grants are available for those who can’t afford it. Should participants fail to meet the requirements or drop out early, they must serve the original sentence for their crime.

Judge Cheryl Moss has been the driving force in establishing the GTDC in Nevada. On the podcast “All In: The Addicted Gambler’s Podcast,” Judge Moss noted that she historically had about a dozen cases a year in family court that related to gambling addiction. As a result, she decided to get gambling assessments in certain custody and divorce cases.

According to Judge Moss, it’s been proven that specialty courts, such as the gambling diversion court, work. And it also saves the cost of incarceration, which in Nevada is approximately $24,000 per year per individual.

While the success of a gambling court is apparent, the challenge is getting judges to learn about it and appreciate its benefits to both the individual and the state. In addition to educating judges, it’s also important that criminal defense attorneys learn about the court so their clients know it’s an option.

The reception to the specialty court among those in the gambling industry and casinos seems favorable according to Judge Moss. She notes that some of the court’s participants have been casino employees, so the possibility for restitution rather than prison means the casinos will recoup at least some of their losses.

But in the end, more than financial restitution, it seems the option provided by the GTDC fulfills a moral imperative to demonstrate compassion and understanding. As Judge Moss says, “It gives people from all walks of life a second chance to be productive citizens.”

The State of New Jersey currently has two bills being considered to introduce gambling courts similar to the Nevada model. Action is expected on the bills later this year.

To help generate interest and awareness for such a court in Minnesota, Judge Moss suggests asking your congressman, senator or assemblyman to amend the state statute. It’s also helpful to spread the word to judges and help them realize that it’s possible to create such a court — and that it can be successful.

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