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Help, not prison, offered at new Clark County gambling court

October 28, 2018 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Clark County has launched a special diversion court for problem gamblers charged with non-violent crimes to seek help instead of face time in prison.

Family Court Judge Cheryl Moss started accepting referrals last week from judges who hear criminal cases. Her late mother, Rena Nora, a psychiatrist, was the leader of a group that pushed for criminal diversion for those with gambling addictions for years.

“This is historic,” Moss told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week. “This is big news, not only in Nevada but worldwide.”

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Moss, who first instituted gambling assessments in family cases in 2001, plans to hold gamblers court in her courtroom in Las Vegas at least every other Friday.

Nevada first implemented specialty court programs in 1992 for people who face criminal charges that might have stemmed from other addictions, typically drugs or alcohol.

Instead of prison or probation, judges will be able to order intensive counseling for gambling addicts and retain oversight of their recovery. Advocates say it’s more cost-effective than incarceration and a proactive way to reduce the number of repeat offenses.

“I’ve always envisioned a gambling treatment court in the back of my mind,” Moss said.

A little over two years ago, Moss wrote an article for the UNLV Gaming Law Journal titled “Shuffling the Deck: The Role of the Courts in Problem Gambling Cases.”

It analyzed approaches to gambling diversion programs across the country.

“I believe that addressing problem gambling starts with awareness and educating the public,” she wrote. “In my career as a family court judge, awareness and educating the public are not possible without substantive knowledge and actual courtroom experience.”

Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, said her staff will help introduce defendants to resources and treatment options around Clark County.

“The best outcomes for problem gamblers are the result of a combination of clinical or therapeutic treatment as well as community or peer support,” O’Hare said. “We want to make sure that piece is something they can find for themselves.”

Chief District Judge Linda Bell decided to launch the specialty court after attending a working group created by Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson. The group includes lawyers, judges and experts in the gambling industry, addressing possible changes to the state’s gambling diversion law.

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Earlier this year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Wolfson’s longtime aide, Audrie Locke, had allegedly stolen $42,000 from his campaign fund. She was not charged criminally and blamed the theft in part on financial troubles tied to her video poker addiction, for which she said she had sought treatment.

“I think we should have a gamblers court,” Wolfson said. “The establishment of a gamblers court is a good thing.”

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com