Problem Gambling Law Invoked in Compulsive Gambler Sentencing
Today was a historical day at the Clark County Nevada Courthouse, as District Judge Donald Mosley became the first to invoke NRS 458A, Nevada Problem Gambling Diversion Program, in his ruling and sentencing of an admitted compulsive gambler who had embezzled client funds to feed a gambling addiction.
It was a moving, nail biting, tense courtroom scene. The first I’d ever experienced that didn’t include the familiar “Dung Dung” sound of an episode of Law and Order. This was all too real, and the lives of many hung in the balance. Not the least of whom was the defendant, a recovering compulsive gambler who has been in treatment and within the rooms of recovery for more than four years.
The courtroom buzzed as conversations ebbed and suddenly grew silent only to escalate again in anxious anticipation of the impending hearing. Finally, after an interminable amount of time, the courtroom was called to order after a forty-five minute meeting in chambers. It would seem that perhaps an agreement had been reached behind closed doors. This was not the case.
The courtroom was filled with the defendant’s family members and friends, fellow recovering compulsive gamblers, specialists in the gambling addiction treatment field and advocates and experts in problem gambling; not the least of whom was the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling’s Carol O’Hare who championed the passage of this ground-breaking legislation. Additionally Dr. Rob Hunter, Ph.D. of the Las Vegas Recovery Center, Denise Quirk, addiction counselor and CEO of the Reno Problem Gambling Center and, from the Eighth Judicial District Court’s Drug Court, the Honorable Judge Jennifer Elliott all sat in the courtroom in support of the defendant.
Frankly, they also sat in that courtroom today in hopes that the long-fought battle in support of diversionary sentencing for problem gamblers who committed a crime in furtherance of their gambling addiction would be upheld.
Judge Mosely asked pointed questions and raised germane issues. He started out saying that he ‘didn’t want to open a Pandora’s Box paving the way for unqualified defendants to call upon this legislation to avoid incarceration.’ He asked questions as to any prior offenses; knowing that anyone with a prior conviction, a DUI, and a bevy of offenses would NOT be eligible for diversionary court. Defense Attorney Thomas Pitaro had a remarkable handle on the facts and affirmed that the defendant had regularly attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings, attended daily group therapy and individual counseling sessions at the Las Vegas Recovery Center and was eligible for sentencing under NRS 458A due to his previous stellar record and his clean record post gambling rehabilitation.
Finally, after an hour and a half, as Carol O’Hare, Denise Quirk and I held hands (and our breath!) Judge Mosley gave his sentence. Three years of Gambling Diversion as subscribed in NRS 458A and FULL RESTITUTION to all victims of the defendant’s gambling-related embezzlement.
History was made today! While this law has been called upon approximately twenty times in Northern Nevada, this was the first time since passage in October 2009 that Clark County, Nevada has recognized and implemented sentencing under the Gambling Diversion law. The law was implemented to provide alternatives for otherwise law-abiding, and integrous individuals who’s moral compass went awry as a result of a gambling addiction. There was and is no sense of “he got away with it.” Like so many of us crippled by our gambling addiction, this defendant didn’t “get away” with anything. Over the past few years he has lost his job, moved in with his elderly father, faced shame and pain and contemplated suicide as a result of his gambling addiction. In recovery he has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to make restitution to his victims from whom he embezzled more than $300,000 to feed his gambling addiction.
What the court did today was 1) Recognize the validity of alternative/diversionary sentencing 2) Uphold a law that will set a precedence for others who are eligible for sentencing (within VERY strict guidelines of behavior pre and post gambling-related crime) 3) Set a precedence for Clark County, Nevada which arguably has one of the highest gambling addiction rates in the country at about 6% of the total population.
The Judge did something else as well, which cannot be overlooked. He gave the compulsive gambler the opportunity to fulfill a key tenant in the recovery program of Gamblers Anonymous: that of making amends. In this case, the defendant will be able to make financial restitution to the victims of this gambling-related crime. Had the defendant been incarcerated, the likelihood of his victims ever seeing pennies on the dollar of the more than Three Hundred Thousand Dollars owed would be slim and none.
Lanie’s Hope proclaims our dedication to serving as a “catalyst for social change in problem gambling.”
When we chose this as our mantra, the subject was too big and too broad to answer the question, “Social Change in WHAT?” There is inequity in the treatment of compulsive gamblers over other addicts in so many areas that we couldn’t narrow it down to, say, social change in psychological treatment, medical and social care, incarceration, etc. etc. Call them “problem gamblers”, “compulsive gamblers’, “pathological gamblers,” or the new catch-all phrase “disordered gamblers.” Regardless of the term, anyone who is impacted by this illness and earnestly seeks help is deserving of social services in parody with other addictive disorders. To date, inpatient treatment for problem gamblers is rarely covered by insurance or social services. Admit a problem gambler to a hospital for suicidal ideation and their problems are compounded with HUGE hospital bills that an alcoholic or drug addict would NOT have to pay. Disordered gambling is a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition. This segment of society does not deserve “special” treatment. They deserve EQUAL treatment. Today, in Clark County Nevada, Judge Mosley, Thomas Pitaro, Esq. and all of the advocates who worked so hard to support the Nevada Problem Gambling Diversion Program are our heroes! Social change in problem gambling is becoming a reality.