It seems logical that a newly established alternative court for defendants afflicted with a problem gambling disorder would be based in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed “Gambling Capital of the World.”
However, proponents of the program, which focuses on treatment for the illness and making restitution to victims, don’t believe the court will be overrun with defendants.
“They have to be certified as someone with a gambling disorder who has pleaded guilty to committing a crime due to that affliction,” said Clark Country District Judge Cheryl Moss, who is overseeing the court. Las Vegas is the primary city in Clark County.
“The eligibility is strict. It’s about treatment, and it’s about recovery.”
A Clark County District Court criminal judge makes the final determination if a defendant is eligible for the problem gambling court, following the recommendation of certified problem gambling counselors and specialists.
The Gambling Treatment Diversion Court was launched in December with two initial cases. Moss holds status checks every two weeks to make sure defendants are getting treatment and paying restitution. As part of the restitution and recovery process, the defendant must write personal checks to the victims.
“It’s part of a problem gambler’s recovery to write that check, which, in the past, might have been used for gambling purposes,” Moss said.
Nevada’s gaming industry is supportive of the court.
MGM Resorts International Senior Vice President Alan Feldman is also chairman of the industry-backed National Center for Responsible Gaming, which is associated with Harvard University and funds scientific research on gambling addiction. He says treatment is more useful than incarceration.
“The notion that, if you have a gambling disorder, you’re forced to go to prison – that doesn’t make sense,” Feldman said. “The person or the business you stole money from will never see a penny (in that case.) The court is a path to recovery and a path to becoming a contributing member of society again.”
Feldman hopes success in Las Vegas for the diversionary court will lead to the program being implemented in other states. There are now 40 states in the U.S. with some form of casino gaming.
“We should be the gold standard here in Nevada,” he said.
The Washington, D.C-based American Gaming Association has cited responsible gaming as the industry’s top priority in 2019.
The AGA’s Responsible Gaming Collaborative was set up last year and “will continue to lead the charge against problem gaming and hold the government accountable for supporting proven, effective solutions,” Elizabeth Cronan, senior director of gaming policy at the AGA, wrote in a commentary published in Global Gaming Business Magazine this month.
An experienced judge
Moss sits in Clark County’s Family Court Division, where her days are normally spent overseeing contested divorces and child custody battles. But her background and knowledge on problem gambling issues makes her the perfect judge to oversee the new court.
Moss’s late mother, Dr. Rena Nora, was a Veteran’s Administration psychiatrist and a well-recognized specialist in problem gaming matters, first in New Jersey and then in Nevada. In the 1990s, Nora chaired the Nevada Governor’s Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling. Moss offered legal advice.
Through her mother, Moss met numerous specialists and experts involved in problem gambling research. One of her early acquaintances was Judge Mark Farrell, who instituted a problem gambling court in his small upstate New York courthouse.
Some of the ideas for that court were discussed in 2009, when the Nevada Legislature first approved the concept. The court was modeled after other specialty diversionary courts in Clark County, including veterans court, drug court, felony DUI court and drug treatment court. Moss testified in favor of the legislation.
Defendants whose crimes are linked to their gambling addictions have up to 18 months to get treatment for their addiction and make financial restitution for their crimes, which often involved their employer or a family member. Experts said the defendants eligible for the diversionary court are typically first-time offenders whose crime can be linked to their gambling addiction.
Then-Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons signed the legislation in 2010, but it took nine years for the court to be implemented. Prosecutors were concerned about “thousands of defendants” flooding the court.
Moss credited Clark County Chief District Judge Linda Bell with finally pushing the court forward after years of debate and discussion.
Bell, in her monthly commentary in the Clark County Bar Association’s magazine, wrote, “Nevada is the leader in gaming and our specialty courts have achieved significant success, so it makes perfect sense that our state should lead the way when it comes to gambling treatment diversion.”
Feldman said the early predictions of “thousands of cases” were far from accurate.
“It’s a fairly modest number,” he said. “The court might be able to do some good.”
Another proponent, Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Dayvid Figler, who agreed to serve as the special defense attorney for the Problem Gambling Court defendants, said Nevada’s court differs from the New York court by being “far more ambitious… (which) results in the dismissal of all criminal charges.”
“Nevada has taken on a much higher profile and ambitious project to divert problem gamblers who commit offenses into treatment,” Figler said. “This is a huge change for our community and is being touted now as a model for the country.”
Moss said her next goal is to work with a Reno judge to bring the program to Northern Nevada.