As New Jersey casinos strive to return profits to pre-pandemic levels, local legislatures are attempting to ensure that gambling addiction does not rise as well.
In furtherance of this goal, Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Dan Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), and Anthony Verrelli (D-Hunterdon, Mercer) have introduced A420 to create a Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Program.
Caputo, Benson, and Verrelli said the following in a joint statement, per New Jersey Assembly Democrats, in support of the bill’s introduction:
“We should be helping those with gambling addictions who have committed minor offenses, not imprisoning them. With the three locations throughout the State, we will be able to provide services for everyone referred to the Gambling Treatment Diversion Court Pilot Program.”
The bill calls for establishment of three gambling courts: one in the northern region of the State, another in the central region, and a final location in the southern region of New Jersey. These three courts, alongside associated health professionals, would determine if the person convicted is eligible to join the program or if they require more extreme consequences.
The biggest detractor for the proposed bill may be the exact place legislators desire to send problem gamblers: the courts.
Andrea Johnson of the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts told lawmakers the court system supports the spirit of a diversionary court. However, she urged legislatures to divert these offenders to existing diversionary programs rather than create a new program at a time when courts are overwhelmed by record-high judicial vacancies.
In addition to A420, Caputo also introduced two other bills aimed at curbing gambling addiction. A5226 would prohibit sports betting advertising at public colleges and universities in New Jersey, while A5308 would require school districts to instruct high school students about the risks of compulsive gambling as part of their health curriculum.
These two bills are particularly pertinent in the wake of concerning findings in underage gambling. Although the legal age of gambling is 21 in New Jersey, the National Center on Problem Gambling estimates up to 6% of kids ages 12 to 17 have a gambling problem, while up to 14% are at risk of developing an addiction.
Responsible Gaming Initiative in New Jersey
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) also recently announced a new Responsible Gaming Initiative to identify and help problem gamblers by using information collected by online gaming operators regarding patrons’ playing habits.
As part of this new initiative, which went into effect after the Super Bowl, the DGE will work with online wagering companies to use technology to identify and work to address at-risk patrons. Operators of gambling platforms are now required to analyze electronically maintained player data to determine whether a patron is showing signs of problem gambling behavior.
Operators of online wagering platforms already train staff members who interact with players to identify red flags indicative of a gambling disorder. This new initiative ensures that data, not just observation by platform personnel, is used to pinpoint players who might need help and provides for dedicated gaming personnel to reach out to them.
In addition to problematic play, platforms will watch for account activity that could indicate problem gambling, including deposits of thousands of dollars made in a short span of time, or a player making multiple requests in a 24-hour span to increase the limits on deposits or losses.
New Jersey’s current framework for addressing gambling addiction consists of the self-exclusion system, a requirement that all gambling advertisements include certain responsible gaming language, and wagering options for patrons to select to monitor and control the amount of time and funds they spend on gambling, including time and deposit limits.
Rather than requiring gamblers to recognize when they have a problem and need to seek help, this new initiative provides proactive outreach to make patrons aware of habits they are exhibiting and assist the patron with guidance, information, and options to consider for their use in the future.
Anyone in New Jersey who is struggling with a gambling problem is encouraged to call or text the state’s free helpline 1-800-GAMBLER for confidential support. Additionally, bettors who are concerned with their gambling can employ available options on betting apps and websites, including 72-hour or longer “cool off” periods, one and five-year self-exclusions, self-imposed deposit or loss limits, or permanent self-exclusion through the DGE.