In a bid to address the complex intersection of crime and problem gambling, legislators in New Jersey and Washington are pushing for the establishment of alternative court systems. Inspired by successful models in Ohio, Nevada, and New York, these states are considering the implementation of Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Programs. 

In New Jersey, Senator Nicholas P. Scutari sponsored Senate Bill S2272, aiming to create the “Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Program” within the state’s criminal justice system. The bill acknowledges the widespread nature of the $3.5 billion gambling industry in New Jersey, highlighting the potential for individuals with gambling disorders to become entangled in destructive behaviors, from financial ruin to criminal activities. 

The proposed legislation defines key terms such as “person with an addictive disorder related to gambling,” “disordered gambling,” and “problem gambling,” emphasizing the need for specialized intervention. It outlines a comprehensive framework that includes the involvement of qualified mental health professionals, treatment plans, restitution, and court-monitored progress reports. 

Similarly, in Washington, House Bill 2055, sponsored by Representatives Chris Stearns and Tina Orwall, seeks to introduce a parallel program conducted by the administrative office of the courts. This program, to be established in three selected counties, focuses on treating individuals affected by an addictive disorder related to gambling who have committed crimes. 

Both the New Jersey and Washington bills share common elements, requiring participants to agree to pay restitution and undergo court-monitored treatment for gambling-related disorders. The treatment programs, administered by qualified mental health or substance use disorder professionals, encompass educational, counseling, and support sessions. Progress reports and referrals to relevant community services are integral components of the proposed interventions. 

The eligibility criteria are stringent, excluding individuals with a history of violent offenses or crimes against persons. A comprehensive assessment process involving qualified professionals aims to determine whether a person is suitable for the diversion program. 

If successfully implemented, these Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Programs could serve as progressive models for addressing the complex challenges posed by crimes intertwined with problem gambling. Both bills emphasize the importance of a tailored, rehabilitative approach, steering individuals away from incarceration and towards the necessary treatment and support for their gambling-related behavioral pathologies. 

As these bills progress through the legislative process, the potential impact on the justice system’s resource allocation and the lives of individuals struggling with gambling disorders remains a focal point of discussion and debate.