New Jersey casinos may soon employ rehabilitated drug offenders, despite concerns over addiction relapses, if proposed state legislation is approved.
Under Assembly Bill No. 5817, New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission would be able to grant a casino key employee license, and the state Division of Gaming Enforcement could issue an employee registration to select drug offenders who successfully went through a special probationary period.
Those offenders whose cases are assigned to Garden State drug courts avoid prison sentences, and instead receive treatment and undergo judicial supervision. Usually, only low-level offenders are sent to these drug courts.
The relevant cases relate to offenses involving a controlled dangerous substance, an imitation controlled dangerous substance, or a controlled substance analog, the bill says. The legislation would also prevent officials from revoking current casino employee registration for an applicant.
Applicants for the program may also need to have a health professional determine the defendant is dependent on alcohol or drugs and would benefit from residential or outpatient treatment.
Bill Backed by Assembly Committee
The Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the bill earlier this month. It still requires other votes on the path to becoming a state law.
The bill is sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Northfield. A similar bill that failed to get enacted last year was co-sponsored by state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Linwood.
The earlier bill was introduced with support of Joe Jingoli, a partner in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. Hard Rock wants to give those recovering from addictions opportunities for careers, The Press of Atlantic City reported.
It also appears casinos in Atlantic City are finding it hard to fill many vacant positions. Atlantic City has been one of the hardest hit areas in all of New Jersey when it comes to dealing with the opioid epidemic. Atlantic and Cape May counties as of last year had about 800 participants in their drug recovery program.
But there are words of caution for those casino job applicants with a history of addiction.
Casinos Are Risky Environments
“There is a fair body of research to show that a large proportion of those with gambling problems also have or had drug/alcohol problems and vice versa,” Lia Nower, director of Rutgers University School of Social Work’s Center for Gambling Studies, told Casino.org. “There is also research to show that many casino workers have or develop gambling problems and are continually exposed to alcohol.”
While I applaud the desire to reduce stigma associated with drug offenses, I think working in a casino would be a high-risk environment for anyone in recovery, whether or not they have a criminal history, and I wouldn’t recommend it,” Nower added. “From a recovery perspective, we all know that individuals in recovery should avoid people, places and things that could serve as relapse triggers.”
She points out, too, that there is “a significant amount of addiction-shifting” for individuals with addictions.
“A person may be abstinent from drugs. But if they are continually exposed to alcohol, may develop an alcohol problem,” Nower explained. “Or, if they are abstinent from drugs and alcohol, but around gambling all the time, they could find themselves engaging in gambling to excess. For me, the concern is for the person in recovery and placing an undue burden on their sobriety.”