NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Innovations in Public Policy: Gambling Court and the Iowa Gambling Treatment Program

Judge Mark Farrell presented findings and observations today from the Amherst Gambling Treatment Court, which he created in 2001. The court was modeled after drug courts to provide treatment and rehabilitation as an alternative to traditional court systems. Farrell pointed out that most problem gamblers who run afoul of the law tend to commit non-violent crimes, especially identity theft, forged checks, theft from family and employers, and shoplifting to resell the stolen items. Much like the defendants in drug courts, the crimes were committed with the intention of acquiring more money with which to fund their habits.

Farrell said, however, that he has seen an increase in more serious crimes in the last few years, including burglary, felony-level street crime and drug-related crime, which he believes represent an even stronger case for the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals who have or could become a danger to the community if their addiction is left untreated.

Farrell explained that the therapeutic court system, like traditional courts, first arraigns the defendant on formal charges. If the judge refers the defendant for assessment, the defendant is back before the court within one week for an initial assessment. Following that, the defendant undergoes a full screening for pathological gambling within two weeks. Farrell pointed out that in traditional court systems, months pass before the defendant appears in court again. In the therapeutic system, the defendant is immediately evaluated, and enters into a treatment program and starts probation.

Farrell further explained that the most difficult aspect of the gambling court is identifying who is a problem gambler. He explained that the medical field has not yet created a test to prove whether someone has been gambling. He said that in lieu of a definitive test, pathological gambling is diagnosed by meeting several predetermined criteria.

Farrell went on to say that defendants who are non-compliant in the program can face sanctions from a judge, ranging from warnings in open court all the way to termination from the treatment from the program and jail time.

Mark Vander Linden from the Iowa Health Department's Gambling Treatment Center showed how they have also adopted policies that require gaming revenues fund services to treat gambling. He explains that the Health Department's goal is to ensure that the public health community is well-versed in and focused on strategies for treating problem gambling. In Iowa, said Vander Linden, the Health Department is committed to raising public awareness of problem gambling and have set up a help line, 1-800-BETS-OFF. He said that a range of prevention, education and treatment options, as well as a stronger community-based initiative is helping them reach out to at-risk communities.

Find a Responsible Gaming Quarterly article with more information on the Amherst Gambling Treatment Court here.


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