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Cuyahoga County launches Ohio's first gambling addiction court program

 Judge Brendan Sheehan announced Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court's Problem Gambling Addiction Program today.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Judge Brendan Sheehan announced Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court's Problem Gambling Addiction Program today.

Cuyahoga County is starting the state’s first addiction gambling court program. The launch of the program comes ahead of the start of legalized sports betting in Ohio next year.

According to Play It Safe Ohio, approximately 220,000 Ohioans engage in at-risk gambling and 30,000 engage in problem gambling behaviors.

Karen Russo was the director of responsible gambling for the Ohio Lottery and has been working on the Problem Gambling Addiction Program. She said it’s important to launch the program before sports betting becomes legal in Ohio next year.

“Calls to the problem gambling hotline have already increased 32% for sports betting alone," Russo said, "and it’s not even legal yet.”

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brendan Sheehan said this won’t be a specialized docket but instead a referral program.

“The goal is to break the cycle of addiction and to minimize the chance that they will return to the criminal justice systems," Sheehan said.

Participants can be referred to the program at any time during the criminal justice process or by the judge presiding over their case. Sheehan said participants have an incentive to join and complete the program.

“If a person successfully completes this program – you’re in this program, you’ve successfully completed this program – their felony charges may be dismissed to avoid felony convictions on their record," Sheehan said.

Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson is the chief of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services' prevention office. She said the court's program takes a wholistic look at the intersection of gambling and mental and physical health.
"When we want to think about how we can help them, it is about any charges certainly that they may have incurred from a criminal justice standpoint, but it's also about helping people be well," Frohnapfel-Hasson said. "And that is a holistic project basically. Behavioral health and physical health are both key."

Frohnapfel-Hasson said about half of people with a gambling problem also have mental health disorders and between 25-30% have substance abuse disorders. She said people who struggle with gambling addictions also may suffer from obesity and heart disease.

The court will begin screening potential participants starting Oct. 17. The program will be the largest of its kind in the country, officials said.

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Abigail Bottar is a junior at Kent State University. She is pursuing a major in political science with a concentration in American politics and minors in history and women's studies. Additionally, Abigail is starting her second semester copy editing for The Burr.