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Nevada launches first Gambling Treatment Diversion Court

Isn’t it ironic that Judge Cheryl Moss’ new Gambling Treatment Diversion Court meets in a courtroom with the unluckiest of numbers?

Convicted felons who qualify can catch a lucky break if they can complete the program, which takes one to three years to finish and includes going into Courtroom 13 every other Friday for as long as they’re enrolled.

The alternative: incarceration.

The court was established when Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 458A was amended to permit defendants to enter a treatment program, in lieu of incarceration, if a criminal judge deems they are eligible.

Chief Judge Linda Bell appointed Moss to direct the state’s first gambling-centered diversion court, which is modeled after other specialty courts in Clark County: veterans court, mental health court, the Opportunity for Probation with Enforcement program, drug court, felony DUI court, family treatment drug court, juvenile drug court and autism court.

It took nearly 10 years for the program to get off the ground once Gov. Jim Gibbons signed the bill into law and it took effect Oct. 1, 2009.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Moss, who lobbied the Nevada Legislature for the bill’s approval.

Just hours after she heard her first three cases late last month, she celebrated with her staff and community well-wishers, who regularly see the damage compulsive gambling disorders can inflict on individuals and their families.

Getting into the Gambling Treatment Diversion Court program isn’t easy. Seeing it through to completion will probably be even harder.

Defendants may be found eligible for the program if they plead guilty to a crime — usually theft or embezzlement — and that crime was committed in the furtherance or as a result of problem gambling.

A defendant isn’t eligible if the crime is one of violence against a person, a crime against a child or a sexual offense.

Judges hearing the criminal case can refer the defendant to the Diversion Court, where Moss will explain the tough road ahead for the defendant.

A qualified mental health professional — a certified problem gambling counselor — must examine defendants to determine that they are problem gamblers.

Then defendants must commit to showing up in Courtroom 13 every other Friday at 9 a.m. They also must pay an administrative fee of $1,500 to cover the costs of the program.

Program participants must submit to random drug tests — and pay for them. They must wear a GPS tracking device allowing the court to monitor their movements so they don’t stray into a casino. Monitors will pay close attention to anyone spending an extraordinary amount of time in a convenience store that might have slot machines.

Then there’s the treatment. Defendants must enroll with a qualified mental health professional the court deems appropriate. In many cases, that’s paid for by insurance or through grants.

Most treatment centers direct their clients to support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, which provide regular weekly meetings for those battling the perils of addictive gambling behavior.

It’s almost impossible to detect a problem gambler in public, since there are no visible signs of impairment like slurred speech or erratic behavior.

Some telltale signs are a preoccupation with gambling; restlessness and irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling; chasing losses after a losing streak; lying to friends, family and therapists to conceal the problem; jeopardizing relationships, jobs and opportunities to gamble; and committing illegal acts to support the habit.

Moss gets how important the treatment phase is — her mother was a veterans hospital psychiatrist who, among other things, treated patients with gambling disorders.

Since establishing the goal of setting up the court, Moss has educated herself about problem gambling and learned from the nation’s first gambling diversion court, established by retired Judge Mark Farrell in Amherst, New York. Now she addresses seminars and panels nationwide and is looking forward to more firsts.

“I’m excited about this one being the first in the state, and I hope to get one set up in Reno,” she said. “But I also look forward to the first one to get through the program successfully.”

She added: “That’ll be a great day.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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