Is compulsive gambling a disease? The prevailing view in the law is that gambling is a vice. Compulsive gamblers who destroy their lives may be pitied, but they are punished for their moral weakness, not treated. In this view, telling judges or juries that defendants committed crimes to feed their gambling habits is worse than useless. Not only is it not a legal excuse, but also now prosecutors can point to a motive.
In 1980, the well-settled law making problem gamblers liable for their crimes was rocked by a declaration from the medical world. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) declared, “pathological gambling” to be an official “mental disorder.” The disorder was published, with a list of recognizable symptoms, in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
The APA is quick to point out that the DSM is designed for diagnosis and treatment only and is not intended to have any legal importance. But, defense lawyers are under a duty to raise every defense, including the fact that the leading medical association in the field says that a person who has a gambling problem is not morally weak, but instead suffers from a disease and the law does not punish people for being ill.
What should the law do with a compulsive UFABET gambler who admits stealing to get the money to gamble? In practice, the overwhelming majority of judges continue to treat the compulsive gamblers accused of committing crimes, as if they have no problems, other than being crooks. This usually means sentencing them to jail. This might give some feelings of “just desserts,” but actually helps no one. Imprisoned compulsive gamblers cannot earn enough money to repay their victims; they will not receive treatment; but they will have lots of opportunities to gamble.
Mark G. Farrell, …