Why U.S. States Should Have Gambling Courts
By Judge Cheryl Moss
A Snapshot of the Family Court System
I have served as a Family Court Judge in Las Vegas, Nevada for over 17 years. During my first year on the judicial bench, I was the first judge in Nevada to develop and use gambling assessments in divorce and child custody cases. Throughout the years, my My colleagues in Family Court thereafter began to ask me for my Gambling Assessment Referral and Order for their court cases.
Las Vegas is known for having among the busiest courts in the nation. One judge may have approximately 27,000 cases assigned to their department. Somewhere between 1500-2000 cases may be active at any given time.
There are 20 Family Court judges in Clark County, Nevada. However, the cases that involve actual allegations of problem gambling and wasting of marital money are few, even in states such as Nevada where problem gambling prevalence is as high as 6.4%. Each year, for example, I encounter approximately 10-12 cases assigned to me where gambling addiction is raised as an issue.
Family Courts and Problem Gambling Cases
Most of the 20 Family Court judges and the 32 Civil/Criminal judges that serve in Clark County have limited knowledge of problem gambling. While high profile criminal cases of problem gamblers have been highlighted in the media in the last decade, diversion treatment of problem gamblers has been less publicized.
The fact is: individuals who could be eligible for diversion treatment are falling through the cracks.
Since 2009, Nevada statutory law has provided for diversion treatment of problem gamblers faced with criminal charges. However, the absence of specific training of a subset of the judiciary and a general lack of awareness of the statute and its provisions are major problems. Subsequent lengthy incarceration becomes a potential outcome.
The Pros for Gambling Courts
There are a number of arguments for the creation of a Gambling Court, not only in Nevada, but also in any states with significant sources of revenue from gaming opportunities.
1. First, there is a very low budget impact in creating a Gambling Court. No building needs to be built. Court proceedings can be held a few times per month in one single courtroom. One judge can be trained at little to no cost to work with attorneys (prosecutors, defense attorneys), social service workers, and treatment providers (certified problem gambling counselors) on how to preside over and adjudicate diversion treatment cases in criminal settings. To date, retired Judge Mark Farrell is the only judge in the U.S. to successfully run a formal Gambling Court in Amherst, NY. His experience would be invaluable to training judges how to handle gambling cases.
2. Second, more specialized operations and coordination can lead to better overall outcomes. Gambling Courts have more resources to work directly with gambling treatment providers and organizations, such as state Councils associated with the National Council on Problem Gambling, which exist in 36 states. This coordination can lead to positive outcomes such as lower recidivism rates and saving taxpayer money that would otherwise be expended on incarceration of the disordered gambler. Coordinated oversight can also increase the possibility of the offender immediately beginning the process of making restitution to victims. Courts can oversee beginning the process of recovery and making amends and mending relationships with family members.
3. Finally, it just makes sense that all states with legalized gaming opportunities should have a formal Gambling Court. The general increase of gambling opportunities across the country, coupled with the relatively recent recognition of gambling disorder as a behavioral addiction with many parallels and significant co-occurrence with substance addictions for which most states already have specialized court remedies, argues for their creation. Many prominent gaming companies have sponsored and supported programs for responsible gaming, including the Nevada statute that allows for diversion treatment: it is good business and public relations to provide such support, and has a net benefit on society.
All it would take is one judge to start the ball rolling.
I’m ready to take on that challenge!