The Gambling-Addiction Defense

The Gambling-Addiction Defense

The Gambling-Addiction Defense

Science, technology, and life.
July 29 2008 2:34 PM

The Gambling-Addiction Defense

Chalk up another victory for the gambling-addiction defense.

Yesterday, attorneys for Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who admitted to betting on basketball games he officiated, filed a psychological "evaluation" that blames his crimes on compulsive gambling . The author is Stephen Block, a gambling treatment counselor. Sample quotes from the evaluation, as reported by the Associated Press : 1) "In my professional opinion, Mr. Donaghy would never have committed these offenses if he was not a pathological gambler." 2) "His gambling history demonstrates the need to gamble to fulfill the underlying need for 'action.' " 3) "He could not stop himself from gambling." The Washington Post supplies one more : 4) "His judgment and insight were impaired by his gambling behavior."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Advertisement

The plea worked. Today, Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison instead of the 27 to 33 months that had been expected. According to the Post , the judge "said she took Donaghy's gambling addiction into account, as well as his cooperation with the government's investigation." Reuters quotes the judge on Donaghy's gambling addiction: "Although it contributed to his criminal conduct, it does not excuse it." No excuse, but a nice contribution: His sentence gets halved.

I'm not going to sit here and claim that compulsive gambling doesn't exist. But disorders that are powerful and real for some people have a way of being diagnosed in other people who don't share many of the symptoms but just happen to need a legal excuse. In this case, all we have is an evaluation solicited and supplied by the defendant's attorneys.

More to the point—and this is the crazy part—in this case, the crime is gambling. If you plug that information into the evaluation, here's what it boils down to: "Mr. Donaghy would never have committed this gambling if he was not a pathological gambler." No kidding! He committed gambling because "he could not stop himself from gambling," because "his judgment and insight were impaired by his gambling." How do we know his gambling is compulsive? Because of his "gambling history." The circularity is shameless.

And don't even get me started on the idea that Donaghy had a "need to gamble to fulfill the underlying need for 'action.'" An "underlying need for action" pretty well describes the motivation for half the world's crimes.

If you really believe Donaghy's gambling was addictive, don't just make it a mitigating factor in sentencing for the crime of gambling. Abolish the crime. Because a crime can't excuse itself.