Gambling addictions don’t just lead to more gambling. They can lead to crime.
And with that in mind, three New Jersey legislators have proposed a bill, A420, that would implement a gambling treatment diversion court pilot program. In short, eligible criminals would be able to enter the program for at least a year and avoid conviction if they meet the program’s conditions.
“A-420 provides an opportunity for treatment for those who are convicted of crimes associated with a gambling disorder so they can address their addiction, while also saving public dollars which would be spent for incarceration,” Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ) Executive Director Felicia Grondin told PlayUSA.
The program is part of an emerging trend of states’ legislative branches recognizing the complexities of gambling addictions. For example, this past week, an Ohio county launched a similar program ahead of sports betting’s launch in January 2023.
NJ program lasts at least a year, only certain gamblers are eligible
According to the bill, there are strict rules about who can enter the pilot program and who can have their conviction vacated.
Who can qualify?
Only gamblers who’ve been convicted of a crime to feed their gambling problem or because of their gambling problem can enter treatment. There are exceptions, though. The following crimes and situations would disqualify someone:
- A crime against a child, including endangering a child’s welfare
- Murder, manslaughter, or leaving the scene of a crime
- Terroristic threats
- False imprisonment
- Domestic violence
- Past convictions of two or more crimes listed above
- The person is on parole
How does the program work?
The program’s goal is to treat the problem that’s causing the crimes. By helping problem gamblers gain control of their addiction, there’s a better chance they won’t break the law.
That treatment consists of several steps.
First, the court has to decide the crimes committed were done because of a gambling addiction. If it believes treatment will help, the court will accept the gambler into the program.
From there, the gambler has to undergo at least one year of treatment with a qualified mental health professional. They also have to meet any conditions the court set for them related to their treatment, including working with a probation department.
If the gambler completes the treatment to the satisfaction of their health professional, the gambler can petition to have their conviction expunged.
However, if they don’t pass the treatment, the court can impose the original sentence.
The bill requires the gambler to pay for the treatment. If they can’t afford it, there are several options:
- The court can send the gambler to a program that receives federal or state funding to offset the cost
- The gambler can do community service to pay for the treatment.
Grondin believes the bill, if passed into law, can do a lot of good. However, she said that lawmakers could adjust the part where gamblers have to pay for their treatment.
“The bill can be improved by including the CCGNJ as [a] resource for treatment referral and to assist those who do not have insurance to cover treatment and/or those cannot afford to pay for treatment, since the CCGNJ offers subsidized treatment opportunities,” she said.
New Jersey could save a lot of money by passing the bill
Grondin noted that the state stands to trim a significant chunk off its incarceration spending if the bill passed.
She noted that it costs $61,000 a year to incarcerate one person in New Jersey and that the state’s drug recovery courts have shown success in this area.
“[Gamblers] they can receive the treatment they need, as opposed to serving time in prison and never getting help to recover,” Grondin said. “By helping people with addiction be treated and enter recovery rather than incarcerated, the state will see a sizeable savings.”
No timeline for when the bill could be approved
At this point, the bill is with the Assembly Judiciary Committee and hasn’t moved since earlier this year.
That slow movement isn’t abnormal for new legislation. However, Grondin said it’s important that the bill passes soon. New Jersey’s sports betting industry is growing like crazy, and gamblers need help.
“The ideal timeline is the sooner the better,” she said. “With the abundance of opportunities to gamble and excessive gambling advertisements, people are gambling more and more every day.”