NJ lawmakers introduce bill to create problem gambling diversion court

New Jersey Diversion Court
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New Jersey is the latest state to consider a problem gambling diversion court.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari has introduced Senate Bill 2272, which looks to create a Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Program in New Jersey that will oversee criminal cases involving people affected by problem gambling. SB 2272, which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, provides treatment instead of serving a sentence to defendants who “committed a crime for which they have been convicted in furtherance of or because of the gambling.”

The proposed diversion program, which is available to participants who agree to pay restitution and a fee, would provide educational tools on the mental, social, and financial implications of problem gambling and how to curtail the issue. SB 2772 would also require participants to meet with qualified mental health professionals, who must send progress reports to the court.

SB 2272 has been introduced in New Jersey following the popularity of online gaming. The New Jersey Division of Gaming reported $2.81 billion in total gaming revenue in 2020 — down from $3.4 billion in 2019 due to COVID-19. However, online gaming grew by 101% in 2020 compared to the year prior with revenue reaching $970.3 million.

Online and retail gambling is a $3.5 billion industry in the Garden State, according to the New Jersey Legislature.

New Jersey takes note of other gaming markets

New Jersey would add to a growing list of states with gambling court programs.

In 2018, Nevada established a Gambling Treatment Diversion Court, which in addition to providing educational tools to participants offers residential treatment and family therapy. The program, which is funded partially by administrative fees, costs $1,500 with other fees covered by insurance or state grant funds. It takes between 12 to 36 months to complete the program.

Washington State lawmakers are also looking to create a Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Program. Earlier this month, Rep. Chris Stearns and others introduced House Bill 2055. The bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary, would also provide treatment to people who have pleaded guilty to committing a crime related to gambling.

HB 2055 offers participants the ability to perform community service in lieu of program costs.