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Best of I. Nelson Rose

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The World's Only Gambling Court

5 May 2003

Is compulsive gambling a disease?

The prevailing view in the law is that gambling is a vice. Compulsive gamblers who destroy their lives may be pitied, but they are punished for their moral weakness, not treated.

In this view, telling judges or juries that defendants committed crimes to feed their gambling habits is worse than useless. Not only is it not a legal excuse, but now prosecutors can point to a motive.

In 1980, the well-settled law making problem gamblers liable for their crimes was rocked by a declaration from the medical world. The American Psychiatric Association ("APA") declared "pathological gambling" to be an official "mental disorder." The disorder was published with a list of recognizable symptoms in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ("DSM").

The APA is quick to point out that the DSM is designed for diagnosis and treatment only and is not intended to have any legal importance. But defense lawyers are under a duty to raise every defense, including the fact that the leading medical association in the field says that a person who has a gambling problem is not morally weak, but instead suffers from a disease.

The law does not punish people for being ill.

What should the law do with a compulsive gambler who admits stealing to get the money to gamble?

In practice, the overwhelming majority of judges continue to treat the compulsive gamblers accused of committing crimes as if they have no problems, other than being crooks. This usually means sentencing them to jail.

This might give some feelings of "just desserts," but actually helps no one. Imprisoned compulsive gamblers cannot earn enough money to repay their victims; they will not receive treatment; but they will have lots of opportunities to gamble.

Mark G. Farrell, Justice of New York State's Amherst Town Court, has come up with a different approach. In 2001, he started the nation's, and probably the world's, first Gambling Court.

Specialty courts for drug addicts and perpetrators of domestic violence have been around for a few years. Social workers screen criminal defendants to see if there is an underlying problem which can be treated.

Judge Farrell is the first to apply this "therapeutic justice" model to gamblers. The program may sound touchy-feely, but that is not how it is run. Defendants have to first plead guilty and waive all constitutional rights, including the right to plea-bargain. If they make it through the program, all charges are dropped. But, if they miss a weekly therapy session, they go to jail for a week. If they miss a court appearance or violate the terms of their contracts with the Gambling Court, they are returned to regular criminal court and go to prison for a felony.

Since many compulsive gamblers have lost all their money, the Gambling Court is fortunate to have the help of the local Jewish Family Service's treatment program, which has never turned anyone away.

In September 2002, Judge Farrell and I spoke at a seminar at Whittier Law School. The obvious question is, does Gambling Court work?

The program is still small and relatively new. But it is the only program dealing with convicted criminals that I know of which can say that not a single one of its graduates has ever been convicted as a repeat offender.

Recent Articles
Best of I. Nelson Rose
I. Nelson Rose

Professor I. Nelson Rose is an internationally known scholar, public speaker and writer and is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on gambling law. A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a tenured full Professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, where he teaches one of the first law school classes on gaming law.

Professor Rose is the author of more than 300 books, articles, book chapters columns. He is best known for his internationally syndicated column, "Gambling and the Law ®," and his landmark 1986 book by the same name. His most recent book is a collection of columns and analysis, co-authored with Bob Loeb, on Blackjack and the Law.

A consultant to governments and industry, Professor Rose has testified as an expert witness in administrative, civil and criminal cases in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and has acted as a consultant to major law firms, international corporations, licensed casinos, players, Indian tribes, and local, state and national governments, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and the federal governments of Canada and the United States.

With the rising interest in gambling throughout the world, Professor Rose has spoken before such diverse groups as the F.B.I., National Conference of State Legislatures, Congress of State Lotteries of Europe, United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has presented scholarly papers on gambling in Nevada, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, England, Australia, Antigua, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and the Czech Republic.

He is the author of Internet Gaming Law (1st & 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.

I. Nelson Rose Websites:

www.gamblingandthelaw.com

Books by I. Nelson Rose:

> More Books By I. Nelson Rose

I. Nelson Rose
Professor I. Nelson Rose is an internationally known scholar, public speaker and writer and is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on gambling law. A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a tenured full Professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, where he teaches one of the first law school classes on gaming law.

Professor Rose is the author of more than 300 books, articles, book chapters columns. He is best known for his internationally syndicated column, "Gambling and the Law ®," and his landmark 1986 book by the same name. His most recent book is a collection of columns and analysis, co-authored with Bob Loeb, on Blackjack and the Law.

A consultant to governments and industry, Professor Rose has testified as an expert witness in administrative, civil and criminal cases in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and has acted as a consultant to major law firms, international corporations, licensed casinos, players, Indian tribes, and local, state and national governments, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and the federal governments of Canada and the United States.

With the rising interest in gambling throughout the world, Professor Rose has spoken before such diverse groups as the F.B.I., National Conference of State Legislatures, Congress of State Lotteries of Europe, United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has presented scholarly papers on gambling in Nevada, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, England, Australia, Antigua, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and the Czech Republic.

He is the author of Internet Gaming Law (1st & 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.

I. Nelson Rose Websites:

www.gamblingandthelaw.com

Books by I. Nelson Rose:

> More Books By I. Nelson Rose