So-called “drug courts” — a specific legal pathway for nonviolent lawbreakers to receive more treatment than punishment — have existed in New Jersey for more than 20 years.
But what about a gambling version of such a court, for those whose compulsive habits in that arena also lead them down the wrong road?
Dan Trolaro, assistant executive director at the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, told a WFAN sports talk radio audience on Saturday that “we are moving closer” to such a program being implemented in the Garden State.
Trolaro appeared on the Hello, My Name Is Craig weekly half-hour morning program hosted by recovering gambler Craig Carton.
“We know gambling is rampant in prison,” Trolaro said. “So for someone who struggles with this problem, putting them in prison when they were leading an otherwise law-abiding life may not be the best chance for their long-term recovery.”
Trolaro added that “rehabilitation instead of incarceration” may be the more sensible approach for certain nonviolent offenders. “I am more hopeful [of implementation of such a program] than I was when I started five or six years ago,” Trolaro added.
The pioneering program
Carton also welcomed as a guest former Nevada state judge Cheryl Moss, who from 2018-20 supervised the Gambling Treatment Diversion Court program.
Nevada’s legislature passed a gambling bill that was signed into law in 2009, but it took almost a decade to take root in practice.
“There wasn’t much opposition to the idea, but there were questions about how overwhelmed we were going to be with cases,” said Moss, who was a family court judge for two decades.
Instead — due in part, Moss said, to a lack of awareness that such a program existed — she took on only nine “diversion” cases in those two years.
“In my view, this absolutely has been successful,” said Moss. “It’s all about making changes in their lives. As a judge, you’re able to make those human connections.
“We had one young man, he couldn’t get a budget straight, he kept jumping from one job to another. I assigned him a few projects, and he matured a lot,” Moss added. “I liked to think of myself as a judge who doesn’t judge. I treat them like people first.”
New Jersey’s turn?
Moss said she took note of the fact that New Jersey’s December handle — the amount wagered legally on sporting events online and at state racetracks and casinos — was a whisker shy of $1 billion. “With that kind of explosion, you predictably see a rise in problem gamblers,” Moss said. “The courts could become one part of the solution.”
Trolaro said that because drug and alcohol treatment programs are funded on a federal level while gambling programs are not, “this whole thing could explode. The next three to five years are very concerning. We want to stay ahead of this.”
Moss said she had regular 90-minute interactions with all nine participants in the program.
“Being a judge, they can’t really contact us [informally],” Moss said. “But I would get updates from the gambling treatment coordinator and from the therapists that they would see weekly, and they interacted with support groups twice a week at a minimum.”
Moss said the participants also took drug tests twice a week, since many compulsive gamblers have other addictions as well.
The court is available for those whose crimes are found to have taken place “in furtherance of a gambling addiction,” and successful participation can lead in some cases to charges being dropped.
The WFAN show
Carton’s program is quite a “diversion” of its own from a radio station that has numerous show hosts — but not Carton — repeatedly reading scripts touting a variety of mobile sports betting apps and their special promotions designed to get listeners to sign up for the apps.
“This is a frank, open, and honest discussion” about the downside of gambling, Carton told his audience on Saturday, which was his fifth weekly show. “About 10% of people who gamble on a regular basis sadly go down the same rabbit hole that I went down.”
Carton was the morning-drive co-host to former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason until he was arrested in 2017 and charged with four counts of fraud related to a Ponzi scheme involving concert tickets.
After being convicted on each charge, Carton was ordered to pay $4.8 million in restitution and was sentenced to 3½ years in prison. Carton was released last summer and resumed on-air work at WFAN in October.
HBO aired a program called Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth last fall chronicling Carton’s fall from grace.