Scott Meyer isn’t interested in discussing the particulars of why he went to prison. Instead he’d like to focus on his recovery from gambling addiction.
But the fact remains that Meyer, a certified public accountant, was sentenced to 12-1/2 years behind bars in 2015 for embezzlement and fraud, crimes he committed to feed his addiction to what he calls “video-stimulated betting” — slot machines, video poker, online casino games, and the like.
“Everyone knew I gambled, but didn’t know the extent of it,” he told NY Online Gambling. “I was an accountant. I was a master at hiding it. [My wife] was taking care of the kids. I was managing the finances.”
Meyer said he ran his accounting practice “like an ethical, moral professional, [but] over a 12-year period of time, I steadily lost control of my gambling. It was a horrible way to live.”
Some 2,300 miles west in Las Vegas, Doug Crawford found himself in similar straits.
“In about the year 2000, my gambling addiction grew to enormous proportions,” said Crawford, a top defense attorney who’d play $25 video poker “as fast as I could press the buttons.”
“And,” he said, “I could press the buttons very f**king fast.”
At one time, Crawford said he was ranked as the 19th highest roller at his casino of choice. At this juncture, his slot host awarded him a Chairman’s Club VIP card and said, “Doug, do you know what this means?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I think it means I got a f**kin’ gambling problem.”
The worst of all his addictions
Elaborating on his experience as a VIP customer, Crawford said, “When you talk about responsible gaming, half of the casinos are not responsible. Half of the casinos talk out of the side of their mouths and pay lip service to problem gaming and don’t do anything. With players cards, it’s a piece of cake to recognize the betting patterns of a gambling addict. And when you recognize those patterns, you have to cut that motherf**ker off because you’re taking money from a sick person.”
Crawford also had serious issues with drugs and alcohol, but said “gambling was 10 times worse” than his competing addictions.
“Gambling addicts used to be thought of as bad people who write bad checks,” he said. “Gambling addicts are very, very sick people. When you’re a gambling addict, your mid-brain hijacks your logical brain and makes you do things you don’t normally do. In the end, when you are a gambling addict, the addiction takes on survival salience, meaning that the gambling addict fully believes that if I didn’t keep doing this, I was gonna die.”
Dr. Michelle L. Malkin, an associate professor of criminal justice at Eastern Carolina University, agreed with Crawford’s self-assessment, observing that gambling addicts “can no longer think in a rational way.”
“Problem gamblers, in their most severe stages, have run out of legal avenues to obtain money,” explained Malkin (not to be confused with the conservative commentator). “They’re full of shame and guilt — they’re very suicidal, for the most part. They don’t think they’re committing a crime. They’re like, ‘I’m gonna pay this back when I get my next big win.'”
To that end, Crawford recalled, “I gambled away everything I owned — all of my money, my house, my 6,000-square-foot office building downtown, my $160,000 sports car. I lost my family, I lost my friends, I lost my colleagues due to my addictive behaviors. The last money left was in my trust account. Some of it belonged to me and some of it was client money. I then began dipping into my trust account. I was able to place it back in successfully for a couple years.”
Ultimately, however, Crawford’s luck ran out, and when his clients asked for their money, he admitted he’d gambled it all away — nearly $400,000.
Crawford wound up being convicted on four counts of theft and faced up to 40 years in a Nevada state penitentiary. Worse yet, he had what he called “a hangin’ judge” presiding over his sentencing, which led to a colleague telling him, “I love you, Dougie, but you are going to prison.”
Only, unlike Meyer, he didn’t wind up doing any time.
‘They would settle their debt in other ways’
Meyer was already two years into his recovery from gambling addiction when he started his sentence in upstate New York’s Marcy Correctional Facility, where he hoped to continue receiving treatment.
There were Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings available to Marcy inmates, but no programs for gambling addicts. Meyer said he “wrote a whole plan for the superintendent” to establish a Gamblers Anonymous group in the prison, but it was shot down due to “insufficient interest.” And when his wife, with the help of New York’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports, tried to set up a pilot program providing one-on-one phone counseling to incarcerated individuals suffering from gambling addiction, prison administrators put the kibosh on that as well.
“Only 5 percent of jails and prisons even assess if inmates have gambling problems,” Malkin said. “It’s not a priority at all. There’s so much gambling going on in the prisons — they have the highest population of problem gamblers of any population in the U.S. Up to 30 percent are said to have a gambling problem, and the percentage increases on the inside, because they’re replacing other addictions. They’ll gamble on anything — cards, TV shows.”
Of his time at Marcy, Meyer said, “There was rampant gambling throughout the facility — cards, dice, push-ups. You name it, they gambled on it. They had football pools going on.”
Meyer, who abstained from gambling during his two years at Marcy (he then served 2-1/2 years in work release before his sentence was cut short), said one major problem for inmates who engaged in such activities was “you didn’t have money in the facility. If you would bet and lose $50, you didn’t have that anywhere. They would settle their debt in other ways.”
Among those “other ways,” said Meyer, were “services,” which could range from “washing your dishes overnight to providing a sexual act.”
A father of five adult children, Meyer’s marriage remains intact. He’s now a certified recovery peer advocate, or CRPA — the first with the designation of problem gambling as a specialty. He’d love to assist inmates in recovery, but has thus far not been able to gain access to them.
“It is very difficult to get into a facility to provide those services,” he said.
Meyer “is becoming active in the problem gambling prevention field, trying to turn his experience into a positive thing,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “And he’s a great asset to anybody. If you look beyond his gambling problem, he’s highly educated, extremely motivated — there are a lot of great things about working with someone like Scott that have nothing to do with his addiction or recovery. That’s one of the things that gamblers in recovery have taught me: People in recovery can do anything.”
As he works to reach more people in his former situation, Meyer said establishing gambling diversion courts — which allow addicts who’ve committed nonviolent crimes to seek rehabilitative services and reconciliation with their victims outside of prison — is his “number one priority.”
“I think it’s incredibly important now. I wish it was important then,” said Meyer, referring to when he was sentenced.
If only he’d lived in Nevada at the time.
‘A very strange situation’
Crawford committed his crimes between 2005 and 2007, but wasn’t initially charged. He was, however, disbarred on May 1, 2007, after which, he said, “My life consisted of nothing but binge gambling all the time.”
Soon, though, Crawford took a look around and saw rock bottom. He did drugs for the last time in September 2008 and took his last drink and placed his last bet in October 2008, which is the month he sought help for his addictions.
Around this time, there was an effort to establish gambling diversion courts in the state of Nevada. Speaking frankly about the extent of his gambling problem, Crawford testified before the legislature and helped craft the framework for the special courts, which were authorized by a 2009 law.
Not long afterward, Crawford was charged with four counts of theft for the crimes he committed while in the throes of addiction.
“It was a very strange situation,” said Crawford. “I am not aware of any other situation on earth where a lawyer committed crimes, was asked by the governor to draft a statute, helped draft the statute, testified, then got criminally charged, then applied for diversion under the statute he helped draft, and then was granted diversion.”
To that end, Crawford said that while he’d reconciled himself to the fact that he’d likely do prison time, he is “a fighter extraordinaire” and opted to try to convince the judge that he deserved diversion under the statute he’d helped draft. Remarkably, the judge agreed to this arrangement, which involved close monitoring of Crawford’s finances and recovery process and required him to pay restitution to his victims to avoid being locked up.
That was in 2011. And despite the fact that Nevada had possessed the legal ability to establish gambling diversion courts since 2009, the first one didn’t get off the ground formally until Judge Cheryl Moss began presiding over Clark County’s in 2018.
In 2015, the same year Meyer was sentenced for his crimes in New York, the Supreme Court of Nevada allowed Crawford to begin practicing law again.
“Once I got reinstated,” he said, “I paid back 100 percent of the restitution in three years, cash, with profits from my law practice.”
The gambling diversion court in Clark County, Nevada, remains the only one in the U.S. Discussion of such courts has progressed to varying degrees in other states, including New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Washington.
Widespread challenges continue to exist in some states, meanwhile, in obtaining funding for even the most basic problem gambling programs.
“To be honest, we still have a lot of states that don’t fund treatment,” said Whyte. “Their helplines are antiquated. There are still some critical triage services that are either unfunded or underfunded. Once some of those basic priorities are addressed nationwide, it’s then that you’ll see more of a shift in emphasis to things like gambling court.”