The first participants of Nevada’s Gambling Treatment Diversion Court graduated on Tuesday, three years after the program was launched.
District Court Chief Judge Linda Bell said the program is the only active court system in the country designed to help problem gamblers convicted of felonies and gross misdemeanors. Created in 2018, the court offers alternative to traditional prison sentences for people convicted of crimes directly related to gambling addictions.
“I think in any kind of addiction, there’s a lot of shame that circles around addictive behaviour, and gambling is no exception to that,” Bell said.”It’s very helpful for (participants) to be able to have that stability.”
With only 11 participants, the gambling program is smaller than other diversionary systems in District Court, which include programs for substance abuse and mental health issues. Three people have graduated from the gambling diversion court, two of whom attended a graduation ceremony on Tuesday morning, Bell said.
A mental health professional must determine that participants qualify as problem gamblers in order for them to be eligible for the program, Bell said. It can take up to three years to complete the program, and participants are required to undergo drug tests, attend counseling sessions and frequently appear in court.
The participants also have to submit financial records and keep the court updated on restitution payments to help them develop a “healthy relationship with money,” Bell said.
While treatment costs are covered through insurance and state grants, participants must also pay a $1,500 fee in addition to restitution payments, according to a statement from the District Court.
Participants are not allowed to enter casinos unless they receive special permission. They are also encouraged to find jobs that keep them away from gambling.
Bell said she wants the participants to live a life where they’re not “always running from their secrets, and living with the shame and guilt that comes along with the inability to control their behavior.”
The system was created in response to a state law amended in 2009 that allows a defendant to enter a gambling diversion treatment program instead of going to prison, if a judge deems they are eligible.
The Nevada Counsel on Problem Gambling estimates that up to six percent of Nevada’s adults could have a gambling problem, according to a statement from the District Court.
“Gambling is a big part of our state and problem gambling is a concern here, perhaps more than other places,” Bell said.