LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The allure and thrill of Las Vegas is known around the world but rush of gambling for some is powerful and it can become destructive, criminal and even deadly.
A special gambling court is now up and running in Clark County which aims at stacking the odds in favor of gambling addicts so they and their victims can become whole again.
Inside her courtroom, Judge Cheryl Moss wields compassion and understanding from behind her bench.
"It's what were famous for, the gaming capital of the world," said Moss about the allure of Las Vegas.
Judge Moss said her understanding of problem gamblers stretches back decades with the work her mother, Rena Nora, a psychiatrist, conducted on the subject.
“Gambling goes back at least a century, in Las Vegas," Added Moss.
"In the saloons, you had the poker games and all that has a history and gambling will never go away in Las Vegas," explained Moss.
The relationship between gambling, gaming and Las Vegas is entrenched but the outcome is not always a winner.
Judge Moss estimates as many as 7 percent of Nevada's 3.12 million residents, or 218,400 people are dealing with varying degrees of gambling addiction.
Some will find themselves in courtrooms, or worse, behind bars.
"I've probably been a gambling addict since I was about 18-years-old," said Las Vegas Attorney Doug Crawford.
Crawford said his life of addiction started moments after he left the military.
“My Dad and I went to a casino and the very first time I engaged in casino gambling, I think my father and I gambled for about 18 hours straight," explained Crawford.
Crawford began practicing law and made his way to Las Vegas in the 1980s and quickly found lucrative success in litigating the deadly Las Vegas Hilton and MGM Grand fires.
"The Las Vegas of the 1980s and 1990s was rife with substance abuse and still is rife with substance abuse and alcoholism," said Crawford.
Crawford said it would not be uncommon for him to spend his entire paycheck in a single binge.
"Sometimes loosing $50,000 to $80,000 at a time," said Crawford.
"Luckily for an attorney at the time in Las Vegas the money was good and I was making large amounts of money," added Crawford.
The addiction continued to grow until the early 2000s when the money ran out and Crawford admitted he took and gambled money from his client's trust account.
"I was looking at 40 years in the Nevada State prison if they got run consecutive," said Crawford.
For the countless gambling-related fraud, theft and other criminal cases, the prospect of people serving felony time and repaying hundreds of thousands of dollars did not seem practical or even logical for state lawmakers.
In 2009, Nevada legislators passed a new law which created a gambling diversion style program however the statute was intentionally vague and for years judges and the justice system had to make up the program as they saw fit.
"Putting them in prison, it may make the victim feel good for a moment that someone is being punished but it really doesn't help anyone," said Attorney Dayvid Figler.
Figler said some of his clients, over the years, got tangled in the wheels of justice and will never get the chance for rehabilitation or to pay back their victims.
He said the victims are often times the people they loved the most.
Judge Moss said her program is intensive.
"You have to come see me every two weeks and you have to comply," said Moss.
"We do random drug testing, we do GPS monitoring to make sure you aren't going into any gambling establishments," added Moss.
The program only has a few people, who were referred by other judges, to participate in the gambling treatment diversion court.
"This is not a get out of jail free card by any means for a problem gambler," said Figler.
Moss estimates a successful completion of the program could take up to 18 months.
The program has been seen as a gold-standard for gambling addition reform and treatment and courts from around the country have expressed interest in modeling similar programs.