The state of New Jersey is currently in a peculiar situation. While they may be narrowing the gap separating them from Nevada, they’re also struggling with possible oversaturation, due to big casinos such as Ocean Casino Resort and Hard Hotel & Casino Atlantic City eating away at other venues’ customers. Amidst all the turmoil, there is also positive and encouraging news.
One such story is closer to a happy end. New Jersey legislators have recently passed AB 5817, which would allow drug court grads to find jobs in the gaming industry. This is welcome news in Atlantic City, as there is a need for new workers all the time. While most politicians and experts have praised the efforts, some have voiced their concerns due to the existence of “triggers” for ex-addicts in casinos.
Efforts That Paid Off
Even though New Jersey was always a state with a liberal stance towards gambling (Murphy vs. NCAA, anyone?), they also viewed the activity as a risky venture. Therefore, legislators passed a law which forbids the NJ Casino Control Commission (NJCCC) from issuing licenses to anyone who graduated from a drug recovery program, orchestrated by the drug court. At first, this was seen as a great idea, mostly because of the fact that casinos have a lot of money flowing through them. This, according to some, is seen as the exacerbatory factor, as it can tempt people into relapsing.
Two Assemblymen, John Armato (D) and Vincent Mazzeo (D) have introduced AB 5817, which cast light on the problems surrounding the previous legislature. This is on par with plans by several Democratic presidential candidates, who have promised more lenient limitations with a goal to allow drug court grads to be a part of society.
Mazzeo pointed out the vicious circle in which many people find themselves in. “Substance abuse in a vacuum is, unfortunately, the least concerning part of the problem in today’s society”, he said. “Drug convictions on a person’s record are basically obstacles preventing them from finding a job and improving their lives.” The bill passed the lower chamber by a vote of 63-8-1. Both authors of the bill represent Atlantic County, the only place in New Jersey where casinos are allowed.
A Second Chance
Only recently has American society started observing substance abuse as a collective societal responsibility, instead of just looking at it like a burden belonging to every individual patient. New Jersey has been at the forefront of this change of outlook, as they’ve recently renamed their drug courts Recovery Courts. This “rebranding” is the idea of NJ Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson, who explained his motivations by saying “We do recovery here, not drugs.”
In total, the state runs these programs in 21 counties. They are available to anyone who is convicted of non-violent, low-level drug crimes. Instead of being sent to jail, they can accept to undergo long-term treatment with supervision from the court. The project has been a success and has positively impacted NJ society by reducing violent drug crime rates.
It’s not just the legislators – even casino bosses have supported AB 5817. Joe Jingoli, one of the partners in Hard Rock Atlantic City, has been a proponent of this particular bill, as well as similar efforts in the past. “If someone is sober and has willingly improved his life, why shouldn’t we hire him?”, he asked on one occasion.
Temptations or Overreactions?
Despite the positive ramifications of the aforementioned bill, there are still some who advise against such measures. The main argument of those opposing this effort lie in the fact that the gambling industry is almost always surrounded by copious amounts of alcohol and millions of dollars being gambled on a daily basis.
Lia Nower, director of the School of Social Work’s Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, reiterated this notion, citing casinos as a high-risk environment for those who suffer/suffered from some sort of addiction.
On the other hand, there are those who oppose such a view, claiming that former addicts can’t recover fully if they can’t willingly say “no” to vices. Avoiding them, as it is believed by some psychologists, creates an artificial “safe space” which doesn’t tackle addiction successfully.