For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 38

ethnic minorities,13-15
military veterans.18
homeless individuals,16,17
and
From Recreation to Disorder: The Development
of Gambling Disorder
Gambling is a " spectrum " addiction, with
individuals shifting
from lower (recreational)
to higher (disorder) levels of pathology and,
sometimes, back again across their lifetimes.19
The
progression across the spectrum typically occurs
in three phases: the winning phase, the losing
phase, and the desperation phase.19
Typically, an
early win, series of wins, or positive emotional
state resulting from gambling fuel continued play
in the " winning phase, " which invariably leads
to mounting losses in the " losing phase, " and
negative consequences, including criminality, in
the " desperation phase. " Compared to substancebased
addictions, where impairment becomes
apparent as it progresses, gambling addiction can
be maintained in secret. Most problem gamblers
can hide the scope of their financial devastation
from friends and families until it is too late to
remediate the ruin that ensues.
Decades of research demonstrate that gambling
often begins in childhood at home20,21
and delinquent behaviors.23
and
accompanies other problems including substance
misuse,21
decreased academic performance,22
A complex disorder,
gambling has been found to affect the same
changes in the brain with regard to urge and craving
as do substances.24
The movement along the
spectrum is also complex, hastened by risk factors
that predate gambling problems and generally
develop along one of three
" pathways. " 25
One
group of individuals typically reports a history of
childhood maltreatment such as abuse, neglect
or witnessing trauma; they have higher levels of
anxiety or depression before gambling becomes a
problem and gamble mainly to cope with stress or
loss. Another group has higher levels of impulsivity,
antisocial or narcissistic traits and a penchant for
risk-taking; they use gambling for stress coping but
also because it supplies a purpose in their lives. The
third group shares none of these problems or traits
of the other two groups. They begin gambling
typically for recreation and socialization or to
combat loneliness; they increase their gambling
frequency, intensity and expenditure over time
and develop problems when this escalation
becomes a habit, and distorted thinking around
the odds of winning as well as inducements in the
gambling environment fuel continued play.
38 For The Defense l Vol. 6, Issue 2
Gambling-Related Crime
Increases in frequency and intensity of gambling
inevitably lead to mounting losses and a narrowing
spiral of available options to recoup losses. Missing
one house payment becomes two, then three,
before progressing to imminent foreclosure.
Borrowing from family and friends to hide the
nature and extent of gambling evolves into stealing
and forging checks. In one particularly tragic case,
an individual, intent on obtaining money to pay
back a loan, left her grandson to die in a hot car
for hours while she lost track of time gambling. In
all these examples, gambling, securing money to
continue gambling, or generating income to pay
debts caused by gambling directly influenced the
commission of the criminal act.
However, simply because a defendant gambles
and commits crimes does not mean the crime is
gambling related. An individual may gamble
excessively, rob a bank, then take the money from
the bank directly to the casino. They may also take
the money and buy a Ferrari. The latter would not
be a gambling-related crime.
Therefore, in considering whether gambling
addiction is relevant to the defense, an attorney
should attempt to assess what role, if any,
gambling played in the commission of the crime.
Did the individual commit the crime to get money
to gamble? Or did the consequences of gambling
result in financial harm that the client tried to
hide or fix by committing the crime? Did the drive
to gamble motivate negligence, which, in turn,
led to a tragic outcome? Did gambling contribute
to a crime along with impaired judgment
from comorbid substance use or mental health
symptoms? Answering these questions are critical
to defending a gambling-related crime.
Each attorney has their preferred method of
interviewing clients. However, gambling-related
crimes, like the disorder itself, can be hidden in
crimes like welfare fraud which would not, on
its face, appear to be related to gambling. For
example, one client, charged with selling drugs,
did not use drugs but only sold them to earn
money for gambling; an astute attorney discovered
this through probing curiosity. Therefore, it is
recommended that a brief screen for gambling be
added to the normal intake questions for criminal
clients. Such questions could include asking
about preferred forms of recreation, common
expenditures,
or
the
frequency
of
gambling
activities. A full screening instrument that might
prove useful for some attorneys can be found on
https://socialwork.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/nower_gambling_screener_0.pdf

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

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