As Ohio prepares for the legalization of sports betting in January, the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas is launching its first-of-its-kind gambling addiction counseling for individuals who are convicted of a crime related to gambling. This is one of the first such court programs in the state and the largest in the country.
According to Judge Brendan Sheehan, the court moved quickly to get its Problem Gambling Addiction Program operative prior to the state’s new sports betting laws going into effect on January 1st, 2023.
“The state of Ohio approved gambling and that’s great, but we also know there’s a bad side, and we want to be prepared for it,” Sheehan said.
The court collaborated with Recovery Resources and Ohio for Responsible Gambling (ORG) to develop this program to expand the assessments given to people charged with crimes when they begin the court process. ORG is a statewide organization comprising the Ohio Lottery Commission, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, the Ohio State Racing Commission, and the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS). OhioMHAS serves as the resource partner for the initiative and the lead agency responsible for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.
Gambling recovery officers, court-appointed probation officers with specialized training, run the Problem Gambling Addiction Program. The implementation of a gambling evaluation will help to pinpoint persons who could have a problem with gambling. In collaboration with Recovery Resources, they will employ programming to assist people in ending the destructive cycle of gambling. Fifty clients can participate in the program.
When suspects are charged with crimes, they go through the central booking process and are already screened for drug or alcohol addictions and mental health diagnoses. Defendants will now undergo another five-question assessment, including whether they have tried to but cannot cut back on gambling, hidden from people close to them how often they gamble or had to seek financial help because of losses in the last year.
To avoid having a felony conviction on their record, a person may have their felony charge removed if they successfully complete the program. The judge assigned to their case will refer candidates for the Problem Gambling Addiction Program.
“A primary goal of our Court is to help individuals overcome the difficulties that brought them into the justice system. By treating a person’s problem gambling addiction, we hope to eliminate the source of these criminal acts,” Sheehan said.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, the term refers to the urge to gamble, despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. People who suffer from pathological gambling may continue to gamble even after they have developed social, economic, interpersonal, or legal problems due to gambling.
A 2017 Ohio gambling survey categorizes 10.3 percent of the general adult population as low-risk, moderate-risk, or problem gamblers. An estimated 0.9 percent of Ohio adults are problem gamblers.
Research also shows that, among those who sought treatment for gambling disorders, about 70% said they committed a crime to fund their gambling addiction. The most common offenses are fraud, theft, burglary, domestic violence, and aggravated assaults.
According to Recovery Resources, simply putting someone in jail because they stole money due to gambling issues is not fixing the underlying problem, and with Ohio’s legalization of sports betting, they anticipate gambling-related crimes will increase. They say that this program could help break the cycle.
“With sports betting becoming more accessible there definitely is going to be a spike, and I know that we’ve noticed a spike in the last couple of months at Recovery Resources,” licensed professional counselor with Recovery Resources Victoria Little said.
According to OhioMHAS this program will encourage recovery and improve thousands of lives.
“We are pleased to see this Problem Gambling Addiction Program launched in Cuyahoga County. Governor Mike DeWine’s focus on addressing mental illness and addictions for overall wellness has changed thousands of lives for the better. This program will encourage recovery for those with gambling problems,” OhioMHAS director Lori Criss said.
Sheehan claimed that because the court doesn’t screen defendants for gambling addictions, he is unsure of the number of them. It would be up to the defendants to disclose any gambling problems to their attorneys, who would then bring it up to the judge before the sentence as a mitigating circumstance.
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