On the model of 2,000 U.S. “therapy courts” devoted to drugs and spousal abuse nationwide, a gambling treatment court in Amherst, N.Y., allows defendants to avoid jail time if they follow a court-supervised program that includes counseling sessions, credit checks and twice-monthly meetings with Judge Mark Farrell. “I realize this is demanding,” the judge said as he ordered a 19-year-old man who forged his father's checks to feed a bingo and lottery addiction, to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings twice a week. “If you continue to apply yourself to the program, and you continue to go to the self-helps, we'll get you through it.”
The court opened in 2001, and handles several dozen cases a year. More than half the 100-plus defendants so far have completed the treatment program, and only one has been arrested again – on an offense not connected to gambling. Oregon plans to start a similar program, a New Mexico task force plans to recommend one. Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling said California and Illinois have expressed interest in starting gambling courts. Arizona trains its probation officers to watch for problem gamblers.