Athletes often make some of the most prolific gamblers around. A star athlete’s competitive nature, easy access to liquid funds, and familiarity with the realm of sports all make sports betting a natural attraction. Because of the obvious potential for foul play, however, athletes have long been forbidden from betting on their own sports and, in almost all cases, any sports at all.
Obviously this prohibition is not 100 percent effective. Athletes continue to gamble and, like most gamblers, continue to lose. When star athletes lose, however, it’s always on a much grander scale than most of us can imagine. Not only do the stars often lose incredible sums of money on their bets, they also risk career-ending scandals whenever they play. This has led to some of the most astounding consequences that gambling has ever produced. We’ve found the eight most extreme examples of this phenomenon and compiled them here.
John Daly is the closest thing that professional golf has to a “bad boy.” He has been married to four different women (one of whom he claims attacked him with a steak knife), been disciplined by the PGA 11 times for “conduct unbecoming a professional” (once for teeing off of beer cans during a pro-am), and been ordered by the PGA to enter an alcohol rehabilitation center seven times (once for passing out drunk in front of Hooters). Yes, in a community that prides itself on modesty and restraint, John Daly is straight up rock-star.
So when Daly revealed in his autobiography that he also had a gambling problem that was on the brink of ruining him, nobody was very surprised. In typical obsessive fashion, Daly had somehow managed to accrue what he estimated was $50-60 million in gambling debts over the course of 12 years. His habit was so bad at one point that he claims to have once lost $1.65 million in five hours playing mostly $5,000 slot machines. Even for a man who drank a fifth of Jack Daniels every day for a year, that’s excessive.
Although most of the evidence suggests that Daly probably lost closer to $20 million than $60 million, the debt was still significant for Daly. It was significant enough, in fact, that he was forced to pay back much of it by making paid public appearances at courses across the nation. For a golfer that has won as many times as Daly, resorting to paid appearances as a source of income suggests a real need for cash. While he may have avoided the wrath of the establishment, Daly seems to have fallen prey to gambling in the most traditional sense.
Charles Barkley has never shied away from holding controversial opinions. Dubbed “Sir Charles” by his team mates, the hall-of-famer was known for his willingness to give commands and make his viewpoints public. This first came off the court in the early ’90s when Barkley, with no elaborations, told parents all over the world “I am not a role model.” He claimed that parents had a responsibility to be role models for their own children, and that allowing kids to idolize basketball players for more than just athletic ability was inherently wrong. While we can see now that he’s clearly right, it caused quite a controversy at the time, and resulted in many parents claiming that it was actually Barkley being irresponsible. He didn’t care much.
Even after almost twenty years, it would seem not much has changed. After mentioning his own $10 million gambling losses while defending John Daly in an ESPN interview, Barkley quickly became a central figure in the larger debate over excessive gambling. And, to no one’s surprise, he has embraced the controversy with open arms. Rather than hiding from the possible blow-back, Barkley has embraced the exposure as a chance to justify his, and several other wealthy celebrities’, gambling habits.
“Do I have a gambling problem? Yeah, I do have a gambling problem but I don’t consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble,” Barkley claimed in the interview. He continued, “I’m going to continue gambling. I like to gamble. It’s really nobody’s business, because it’s my own money, I earned it.” Experience has taught us that Barkley’s wisdom will eventually shine through, but for now most are skeptical. After all, even for a super-star $10 million is a lot to lose gambling.
Michael Jordan is possibly the greatest basketball player to ever live, and one of the greatest athletes to ever play any sport in America. His dunks, his defense, and his gravity-defying leaps all secured his position as one of basketball’s legends. Jordan’s success, however, was not simply due to his inhuman athletic abilities. There was a psychological aspect to Jordan’s game that was at least as important as his legs. While all of his team mates were tired, discouraged, or simply in a slump, Jordan was constantly motivated by his fierce competitive nature. No matter what the situation, he would continue to play harder than any other player for one simple reason: he couldn’t stand to lose.
While on the court, this tendency toward radical competitiveness was a godsend. It kept Jordan motivated, and encouraged some of his most stunning highlights. Off the court however, it left Jordan unfulfilled. Without someone or something to compete against, he couldn’t get his rush. In order to combat this, Jordan turned to two things: video games and gambling. By betting against other people in games or on sports, especially ones in which he was participating, Jordan was able scratch his competitive itch in a socially acceptable way.
$1-$3 million, Reputation, Privileged Status
Unfortunately for Michael, being a great athlete does not automatically make a person a shrewd gambler. Over the years, Michael has achieved millions of dollars in gambling debt, including a debt to one man that once reportedly totaled over $1.2 million, and one to a known cocaine smuggler for $57,000. The monetary value of these lost bets (mostly on golf games) is astounding in its own right, but the pain didn’t stop there. After Jordan’s habit was revealed, his status as a golden, untouchable hero of American society was trashed. He lost sponsorships, lost his reputation, and lost the respect of millions of fans. Some even speculate that Jordan was asked to retire early by the NBA commissioner because of the gambling allegations.
Pete Rose’s fall from grace might just be the most famous cautionary tale available for athletes who want to gamble. In the early 1970′s Pete Rose could do no wrong. He was one of the leaders of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, he earned the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” award, and tied Willy Keeler’s single season record for longest winning streak (44 games). Pete Rose was the bee’s knees.
After his illustrious career as a player, Rose turned to managing his team. He spent five years at the helm of the Reds, and in that time oversaw the fifth most wins of any manger in franchise history. He seemed set to transition from being one of the greatest players of all time, to being one of the greatest managers. That is, until it was revealed that he had been placing bets on baseball games his own team was playing in.
Reputation, Career, Legacy
In the space of only a few months, Rose’s reputation was torn to shreds. After a full investigation into the allegations, Rose eventually admitted to betting on 52 Reds games in 1987, when he wagered a minimum of $2,000 a day. He voluntarily accepted a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list, and resigned in shame. The ordeal has cost Rose his spot in the baseball hall of fame, separated him from his passion, and even prevented his number from being retired. For a few bets, Pete Rose was forced to give up everything he had worked for.
At one point in time, nobody in professional football was as exciting as Michael Vick. Fresh out of college, Vick was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons as the number one pick of the 2001 NFL draft. He almost immediately began performing up to expectations, and soon was even surpassing them. He rushed better than most running backs, threw great arcs as a habit, and commanded his team like no one else could. Vick was more fun to watch than almost any other player in the league since nobody knew what to expect from him.
Then, in the summer of 2007, everything changed. Federal investigators entered Vick’s estate in early April, and on inspection found evidence of a dog fighting/gambling ring. Over seventy dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, some of which were said to be noticeably injured, were seized along with physical evidence. Kennels were discovered, co-conspirators came forward, and eventually Vick had no choice but to come clean. He admitted his involvement with the organization called the “Bad Newz Kennels,” and struck a plea deal with the prosecutors.
$130 million, Career, Reputation
For his direct involvement with, and his gambling on, the dog fighting circuit Vick was sent to prison for about two years. In addition, he lost his $130 million contract with the Falcons, lost almost all of his endorsements, and was banned from the professional football league for several years. In more familiar terms, Vick essentially lost the equivalent of over three hundred Ferarri Enzos in the space of months. Perhaps if he had just stuck to betting on people, he could have gotten lucky and ended up like Pete Rose.
Rick Tocchet entered the NHL primarily as a fighter. It was his job to avenge hard hits or bad calls against his team by throwing off all of his equipment and punching the offending player until the referees were able to push him into a penalty box. After a few games in the professional league however, Tocchet began to hone his hockey skills and, within a couple of years, became a respected, valuable power forward. In the prime of his career he helped lead the Flyers to a Stanley Cup, and was a four-time NHL all-star player. After retiring from play in 2002 Tocchet turned his attentions toward coaching, taking a place as assistant coach with the Grizzlies before settling in the same position with the Coyotes in 2005.
A year after signing with the Coyotes, Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint in which he was implicated as one of the ring-leaders of a nationwide illegal gambling organization. The complaint alleged that Tocchet was the main financial backing for the organization, as well as an active gambler within it. Tocchet denied the claims vehemently, even going so far as to file a civil suit against the state of New Jersey for defamation of character. He lost his own case and, after several other co-conspirators came forward, eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling.
Tocchet was sentenced to two years probation by a New Jersey state judge, avoiding jail time in exchange for his guilty plea. In addition, he was banned from the NHL, and became the butt of every joke in the sports broadcasting world during the following months. Eventually he was allowed back into the NHL as the assistant coach of the Lightning, but after a recent poor season was let go. Many doubt he will resurface in the NHL.
Wayne Rooney is not a name you hear very often in America. As a striker on a soccer team in England, his appeal doesn’t really cross the pond. In Great Britain on the other hand, Wayne Mark Rooney is almost as big as a sports star can get. He was a starter for Manchester United at age 19, he has won the Premier League three times, and for his 2009–10 season he was awarded the title FWA Footballer of the Year. If you follow English soccer even a little bit, you know who Wayne Rooney is.
So when the story broke that Rooney might have a compulsive gambling problem, it spread like wild fire. First it was simple stories of Rooney spending days at the dog tracks and gambling away most of his paycheck, or entering a casino and blowing through £65,000 in the space of two hours. After a little more investigation however, it was soon discovered that the star footballer owed roughly £700,000 in gambling debts to various bookies, and was struggling to pay it off. Soon Rooney was at the center of a scandal that had him facing off against his coach, collectors, and public opinion all at once.
Luckily for Rooney, the Brits have always had a much more liberal view of gambling than the Americans. Rooney was never suspended, and was even helped by his agent and his team to settle his outstanding debt. He has agreed to keep the gambling in check and faces severe penalties if he fails to do so. He did lose almost £1 million while gambling, but compared to the consequences that American athletes face for gambling, that’s hardly a slap on the wrist.
When Art Schlichter was playing for Ohio State he showed as much potential as any other player in the college league. He was a three-time contender for the Heisman Trophy, he led the Buckeyes to within one point of a national championship in 1979, and he left the school as its career leader in total offense. He was the kind of player that coaches loved and Sports Illustrated put on its cover page. So when he finished his tenure at the university, it was only to be selected as the fourth round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts (who moved to Indianapolis 2 years later) in 1982.
As his story gained more and more attention however, Schlichter began having trouble keeping his demons secret. His gambling addiction, which had been growing throughout his time at Ohio State, was no longer something that could be ignored. His frequent bets on football games and horse races were a secret to none none of those close to him and by mid-season had already cost him his entire signing bonus. The problem only got worse and more public as time went on, and eventually peaked during the 1982 NFL strike during which Schlichter managed to rack up $700,000 worth of gambling debt. The Colts released Schlichter, and the NFL had him suspended.
Family, Career, $2-$30 million, Livelihood, Reputation
Schlichter has, by his own admission, has committed over twenty gambling felonies in his life, has served a combined total of over ten years in jail, and has lost almost everything he earned playing football and speaking on the radio. His wife left him after FBI agents raided their home looking for stolen money which she alleged Schlichter gambled away. He later said that he hit rock bottom in 2004, after he was caught gambling in prison. He was placed in solitary confinement for four months. If anyone knows what it’s like to lose big, it’s Art Schlichter.