The Judge Who Does Not Judge

Sometimes a judgement can be a good thing, particularly when you are afflicted with a gambling problem. Richard Schuetz relates the experience of attending the Nevada gambling court, presided over by Judge Cheryl Moss (l.) and how she deals with people brought before the court for incidents spurred by their problem gambling.

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The Judge Who Does Not Judge

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”—Wayne Dyer

This past July, I published an article that was very critical of the governor of Nevada for wanting to redirect monies earmarked for a problem gambling fund into other uses. As is typical with many of the articles I write, people often track me down to rave about my brilliance–or attempt to demonstrate their brilliance by pointing out the incredible stupidity they found in my article.

I have also received notes from numerous legislators at both the federal and state levels, and their general interest is wanting to talk about something I wrote and/or if I would be willing to help them in some legislative endeavor. Following the July article about the problem gambling fund in Nevada, I received my first contact by a District Court Judge.

The judge is the honorable Cheryl Moss, of Nevada, who presides over the Nevada Gambling Treatment Diversion Court, and the note she sent along was very complimentary. I thought it was all very cool to get such a nice email from a judge who I did not know, and I sent her a reply thanking her for taking the time out of her schedule to track me down and write. I figured this was the end of our relationship. Silly me.

A bit later, I received another note from Judge Moss, and she invited me to join her for the Gambling Treatment Diversion Court virtual session on September 4. That seemed to be something of a hoot and so I agreed. Judge Moss then showered upon me more than 160 pages of documents, all relating to the background and history of GTDC. It does appear that if you give Judge Moss an inch, she may try and take the whole mile, and I found this to be quite endearing about her.

What I learned from those 160 pages Judge Moss sent along was that the legislation defining the court was passed in Nevada in 2008, but the court did not become a reality until 2018, with Judge Moss being the first presiding officer. There are clearly a number of detailed rules which control admission to the program, but the general concept is if a crime is related to the “…furtherance of a gambling addiction” an individual can request of the Criminal Court to be diverted into this gambling treatment legal stream, and upon successful completion of the many hoops one needs to successfully navigate in this program, the charges can be dismissed.

As September 4th rolled around, I logged on to the court’s video interface and settled back to listen. I was fascinated and amazed.

As I joined the video link, I noted there were a number of other people on the link attending this court session. First of all, there were the people who were the participants in the program and there were five of them on this particular date. They were logging on from wherever they happened to be which made it all seem very human. Also on the link was a deputy district attorney and a public defender who were there to protect the interests of Nevada and the participants. There was also a certified problem gambling counselor, a representative of the Nevada Council of Problem Gambling acting as a community partner, and then a court coordinator, who was, in my opinion, the most organized person on the planet – for after all, this is a large number of cats to herd.

Oh, and there was also Judge Moss who, and I don’t say this lightly, runs the show.

The GTDC is something between a judicial proceeding and a group therapy session. Each of the participants in the program is called before the judge, so to speak, and one by one they report on how and what they are doing, accompanied by conformation and information by the court’s support team, be it the counselor, the coordinator, or others assembled to track, assist, and monitor the individual’s compliance.

During this session there was an element of sadness for several of the people in the program were not only undergoing the challenges of working through their issues with problem gambling, but the pandemic has thrown additional challenges at them, be it with the labor market, a need to isolate away from group settings, and the like.

On a personal note, I have been in recovery for over 20 years, and my drug of choice was not gambling, but alcohol; a drug I ironically used to treat fairly severe depression. I say ironically because, well, alcohol is a depressive. Much of that twenty-plus years of my life since quitting that drug has been about being helped by other people in recovery, and helping other people in recovery. When the drug is no longer there, be it gambling, shopping, cocaine, alcohol, money, television, affairs, the phone, working, or whatever, the individual is forced to leave a place where he or she hides. When that hiding place is taken away, life gets a bit tougher and then when the external reality of life decides to tank, it can end-up being a tough trip. It can even cost one his or her life.

Judge Moss gets this for she appreciates and is empathetic to each of the individuals under treatment and her finest quality is she treats these people with incredible respect. That is not to suggest she is naïve or easy, for neither term is relevant; but she is respectful. I found it terribly interesting that Judge Moss even knows and discusses what books some of the folks are reading.

I was also impressed how Judge Moss reacted when one of the people in the program copped to an unfulfilled commitment. The Judge simply asserted that while she was the judge, she did not judge the worth and value of a participant, and implored the person to learn from this experience and come back stronger. As she noted, we all make mistakes and she applauded the person for admitting it. Judge Moss is very good at what she does.

As an additional insight based on my personal experience, being in recovery is a process where an individual agrees to work on addressing his or her mental health issues. Some people may look down upon people who are in recovery and working on their mental health challenges. To these people I would argue that I would much prefer to be surrounded by people working on their mental health issues than to be surrounded by the rest of you who are running around totally untreated.

It is obvious the people in the program agree to make much of their lives an open book. In recovery there is an expression that goes: “You are only as sick as your secrets,” and the requirements of the program and the penetrating questions by Judge Moss and her support staff peel back every layer of the onion. The participants regularly provide pay stubs, bank statements, credit card statements, and so on, for after all, in this court there is great emphasis on following the money. Judge Moss is also clearly a believer in the notion often attributed to President Reagan of “trust by verify.”

One of Judge Moss’ many positive attributes is she is a good listener. In working in a recovery environment there are certain tells, to borrow a poker term, and clearly Judge Moss knows them. When a participant starts playing the victim, starts rationalizing, starts minimizing, or just plain starts lying, the Judge’s alarm seems to trigger pretty quickly, and in the nicest of ways she identifies the behavior and suggests it stop.

Judge Moss knows that working with people in recovery is not always easy. I can appreciate this for many years ago I was helping out a methamphetamine addict and all that I asked him to do was to call me every day. For the following few months he would call me every day and tell me he hated me – and then hang up. The good news is that he did not pick the drug back up, and now has almost two decades of being clean. When he calls now he says he loves me. With any addiction the immediate goal is to stop the behavior, the ultimate goal is to save a life. Judge Moss gets this.

Recovery demands accountability and Judge Moss uses this in her practice. In fact, Judge Moss really understands recovery in all of its many dimensions, for in doing my research, it seems to be in her DNA. One of my discoveries was that Judge Moss’ mother, Dr. Rena Nora, was a leading thinker and practitioner in problem gambling and was even awarded a prestigious award by the National Council of Problem Gambling. In essence, she was a legend in the field, and I am sure Judge Moss learned about problem gambling from not only books, but also across the breakfast table from her mother the medical doctor. I think the Judge learned her lessons well.

I am always fascinated when the government actually does something well that they should be doing, and Judge Moss and her court are a clear example. Given the choice of monitored recovery versus incarceration is a no-brainer, in my mind. One ruins a life and one saves a life. Also, incarceration and all that follows it is a very expensive option, especially in the calculus of the long-run. Yet we find Nevada as the only state with an active court. This is not a smart situation for the gambling industry to allow if it wants to be considered a good community citizen.

A Gambling Treatment Diversionary Court is an initiative where the industry could take a leadership role in gaming states across the US. It would involve them needing to admit problem gambling does exist and sometimes leads to crime, and the industry is hesitant to go there. The industry has grown to be comfortable addressing the problem gambling issue with benign denial and distancing for a very long time. There is also that fear too, I would suspect, that if the industry lobbies for such a court it will get stuck with the costs, and we are currently in a world in gambling where the government and the industry just want to keep all of the money they can get for themselves.

The diversionary court model is one that addresses a real social and personal issues with appropriate remedies. Judge Moss will be retiring from the Nevada court in the not-too-distant future. I asked her what she plans on doing. Her response was she wanted to get other gaming jurisdictions to introduce additional gambling treatment diversionary courts. That totally makes sense to me, for she gets it. She has seen it work. It would be nice if the industry would help her.

I have been in and around the gambling business since 1972, and one of my observations is that the gambling industry has become essentially a political actor to the point where it is difficult to separate the worlds of politics and industry. Words seem to have undergone a profound depreciation and I have no idea as to what a handshake means anymore. I believe that if there are a few industry participants reading this article who are curious as to what it is like to walk an ethical path, it is actually an easy task to undertake, starting with very easy steps. You simply try to do the right thing. A gambling treatment diversionary program is the right thing to support. It may not provide the rush of stock appreciation rights, but it should make a person feel good about themselves. It also saves lives.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.