9 Pro Athletes Who Couldn’t Stop Gambling

Sports Stars Gambling

Successful pro athletes earn millions of dollars through their salaries and endorsement deals. This kind of money allows them to enjoy gambling without worry.

Of course, even rich athletes can run into financial troubles when they have a serious gambling problem. Worse yet is that these sports heroes can tarnish their reputations when gambling scandals come to light.

Some athletes have had their names dragged through news headlines due to their problems. Others have even gone so far as to commit criminal acts in order to feed their habit.

I’m going to discuss 9 famous sports pros who couldn’t stop gambling. You’ll see everything from conspiracies surrounding Michael Jordan to Art Schlichter’s gambling problem landing him in prison.

1 – Michael Jordan

Many people know Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time. But the 6-time NBA champion was also an avid gambler.

Jordan is the center of many famous gambling stores, including $100,000 bets involving rock, paper, and scissors, as well as marathon poker sessions during the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Jordan can easily afford high stakes sessions, considering that he was one of the NBA’s highest-paid players and has been a face of Nike throughout his adult life. But the 5-time MVP has sometimes gone too far with his love of gambling.

One of Jordan’s most-notorious incidents is when he went to Atlantic City before a 1993 playoff game. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls were set to face the New York Knicks, and he spent the night beforehand playing at Atlantic City casinos.

He and the Bulls were still able to beat New York en route to their third championship. But his gambling activities caught the eye of league commissioner David Stern.

This is led to a conspiracy theory that Jordan’s first retirement in 1993 wasn’t because he wanted to pursue a baseball career.

Instead, some theorize that Stern suspended him for 18 months for his gambling. This rumor is fueled by something that Jordan said during his retirement press conference.

“I think everyone knows exactly what the circumstances are right now in terms of my decision not to play the game of basketball — in the NBA,” said Jordan. “It doesn’t mean I’m not going to play basketball somewhere else.”

Whether or not the rumor is true, Jordan’s penchant for gambling has continued into the present day. He frequently plays high stakes golf games against others when he’s not busy running his Charlotte Hornets franchise.

2 – John Daly

John Daly is the most controversial golfer of all time. He burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, drinking and smoking heavily when he was on the course.

This being said, it’s no surprise that Dalyloves another vice in gambling. But what’s surprising is exactly how much he’s lost by betting on casino games.

Speaking to Yahoo’s Graham Bensinger in 2016, Daly estimated that he’s lost between $55 and $57 million through gambling.

Daily initially thought he might have lost between $20 and $25 million. But he went through his tax records prior to a 2006 autobiography, and came to the revelation that he’d lost over twice his original estimation.

He recounted a time where he won $750,000 at the World Golf Championship in San Francisco. He then went straight to Las Vegas and lost $1.65 million in five hours while playing high stakes slot machines.

Most of Daly’s losses have come through blackjack and slots, the latter of which he once played for two days straight without taking a break. He told Bensinger that he was especially fond of a “double diamond machine with a cherry” at the Wynn casino.

Daly also says that he used to play seven blackjack hands simultaneously, betting between $5,000 and $15,000 per hand.

The good news for the 52-year-old is that he has his gambling problem under bettercontrol. He told Bensinger that he now has a stop-loss limit and will leave the casino when he hits this amount.

“Now if I gamble, I go in and I play the $25 slots,” he said.“If I hit something I might move up to the hundreds, but I don’t do what I used to do anymore.”

Daly said that he doesn’t regret losing tens of millions of dollars though gambling. Instead, he values the entertainment that he got out of the experiences.

3 – Pete Rose

Pete Rose, also known as “Charlie Hustle,” is one of the greatest Major League Baseball players of all time. Rose is still the MLB’s all-time leader in multiple stats, including hits (4,256), games played (3,562), singles (3,215), and at-bats (14,053).

He also won three World Series rings, three batting titles, two Golden Gloves, one MVP, and made the All-Star team 17 times. But as great as Rose was in baseball, he was equally bad at controlling his gambling habit.

His problem first became national news in 1989, when reports claimed that he bet on games during his time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. League Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and National League President Bart Giamatti questioned Rose about the allegations.

He vigorously denied the claims. But his case was damaged whenSports Illustrated ran a March 21, 1989 cover story detailing how he bet on baseball.

The league investigation concluded that he bet on 52 games while managing the Reds in 1987. He wagered anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per game.

Rose spent years denying the allegations. But he also accepted a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list in 1989.

The lifetime ban has prevented him from being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose finally admitted to gambling on the Reds in 2004, but it still hasn’t earned him a reinstatement into baseball.

The original MLB investigation concluded that he likely wagered on Cincinnati both winning and losing. The latter is particularly damning, because Rose — as the manager — could’ve used his position to influence the Reds’ results.

4 – Wayne Rooney

Former Manchester United star and current DC United forward Wayne Rooney has made a career out of netting game winners. Unfortunately, his winning ways haven’t translated to the casino.

According to a 2017 report from the Sun, Rooney lost£500,000 while gambling for just two hours at Manchester’s 235 Casino.

His losses came through blackjack and roulette, and they only compounded as he continued trying to win everything back.

This incidentbled into Rooney’s personal life, because he blew the money while his wife, Colleen, was on a vacation with their three kids.

One witness told the Sun, “He was gambling a lot on red and seemed to be in his own world.”

Sources told the online tabloid that the English footballer arrived at the casino alone and was drinking beers while gambling. The end result is that he lost £4,000 per minute during his high stakes gambling session.

“Wayne was being extremely reckless, laying down chips which amounted to massive bets,” said a witness. “He was drinking bottles of beer, but he wasn’t drunk.”

Sources also said that Rooney’s gambling drew an audience as he continued chasing losses. He became agitated as the losses piled up.

“He was cursing under his breath and seemed to be in his own little world,” one source explained. “Fixated on the tables and all the machines around them.”

Rooney was earning £300,000 per week through his Manchester United contract at the time. So it’s not like he couldn’t afford the losses.

But his gambling excursions caused he and Colleen to have problems in the aftermath. They’re still together and trying to work through their marital problems.

5 – Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley is an 11-time NBA All-Star who won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1993. But he began struggling with a gambling addiction after retiring from basketball in 1997.

During a 2006 ESPN interview, he admitted to having lost around $10 million through casino games. But he repeatedly stressed that he didn’t have a problem.

Things got worse in 2008, when the Wynn casino threatened to press criminal charges after Barkley failed to repay a $400,000 debt. The Wynn alleged that the former basketball star refused to cover the marker.

Luckily, Barkley had enough money to cover the $400k debt and avoid criminal charges. But his reputation took a hit, and he was finally forced to admit that he had a gambling problem.

Speaking with TNT colleague Ernie Johnson, Barkley admitted that he had to get his betting problem under control.

The “Round Mound of Rebound” still gambles on occasion. But the good news is that he no longer plays for as high of stakes and has avoided any gaming related headlines recently.

6 – Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest baseball players of all time, having amassed 696 home runs, over 2,000 RBIs, and more than 3,000 hits in his career. But the 14-time All-Star is no stranger to controversy.

He was caught using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) twice in his career. He also dealt with negativity surrounding his gambling activities.

Unlike every other athlete on this list, Rodriguez’s gambling was never so bad that he went into financial ruin orstarted committing crimes. Instead, he wasmerely found to have participated in a high stakes Hollywood poker ring.

Major League Baseball took the matter “very seriously,” though, after finding out that Rodriguez wasplaying in illegal, underground poker games. They launched an investigation after a fight reportedly broke out at one of the locations.

“We’re talking to people involved in the investigation and we’re taking this very seriously,” said an anonymous MLB executive. “Because he had been warned about this before, I would say a possible suspension would be very much in play.”

One of the poker games that Rodriguez participated in took place at a Beverly Hills mansion. “Cocaine was openly used” in this game, and a fight started when one of the players refused to cover their $500,000 debt.

Rodriguez wasn’t involved in the fight, and he paid his losses before leaving. But the simple fact that his name was associated with the poker ring – along with actors Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon – was enough to draw an MLB investigation.

Unlike Rose, Rodriguez has never been suspended for the poker games. The main thing that the league wanted to ensure is that he didn’t do anything overly illegal.

Rodriguez, however, was suspended in the 2012 season after it was revealed that he received PEDs from the Biogenesis Clinic.

The43-year-old may not have a serious gambling problem. But he definitely had a problem with using PEDs during his baseball career, which ended in 2016.

7 – Art Schlichter

Art Schlichter is a legendary Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback, who led the school to an undefeated regular season in 1979. He became Ohio State’s all-time leader in total offense when he graduated in 1981.

But all the time that he was making headlines for his play, Schlichter was also gambling heavily. He was frequently spotted at the Scioto Downs racetrack in Columbus with a notorious gambler.

In addition to gambling on horse races, Schlichter also bet heavily on college and pro sports. He’d lost several thousand dollars before even hitting the pros.

Things went from bad to worse after he was drafted fourth overall in the 1982 NFL Draft. He was expected to be the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback of the future, but quickly lost his starting job to fourth-round pick Mike Pagel.

He was suffering just as badly off the field. Schlichter gambled away his $350,000 signing bonus by the middle of his rookie season.

The league had a strike in 1982, which only gave Schlichter more time to continue his betting ways. He racked up a $700,000 gambling debt by the time the strike was over.

In later interviews, Schlichterwould admit that he lost the majority of this money while chasing losses. And the sad thing is that he never learned from his mistakes.

Case in point, he lost another $489,000 while betting on basketball games.His bookies then threatened to expose him for illegal gambling if he didn’t repay the debts.

Scared, Schlichter went to the FBI in 1983 and provided testimony to get his bookies arrested on federal charges. He worried that thecriminals would force him to throw a gameif he didn’t pay up.

While he did the right thing from a legal perspective, Schlichter became the first NFL player to be suspended for gambling since Paul Hornung in 1963 (covered later).

The league reinstated him in time for the 1984 season, but he admitted to gambling while suspended. Indianapolis released him five games into the 1985 season after Schlichter’s problem continued.

He never played another down in the NFL and continued to gamble his way into a deeper hole. In 1987, he was arrested as part of a multimillion-dollar sports betting sting for placing illegal bets.

Schlichter tried getting back into the league in 1988 and drew interest from the Cincinnati Bengals. But the NFL wouldn’t approve the deal and stated that Schlichter wasn’t to be signed by any team.

No longer drawing money from football, Schlichter resorted to conning friends and family into giving him money, which he used to support his habit.

Schlichter always believed that he would win the money back and repay everybody. Instead, he only continued losing more and blew through $1.5 million of borrowed money.

In 2011, Schlichter pleaded guilty to theft and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. He was sentenced to 10 years in a state prison.

Schlichter was later found guilty on federal charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. He falsified his 2008 tax return in order to hide $38,500 in income from the government.

8 – Jaromir Jagr

Jaromir Jagr is a professional hockey player who’s starred for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and Florida Panthers during his NHL career.

Jagr is a decorated player who’s scored the second-most points in NHL history. This is impressive when considering that he’s spent four years playing in Europe.

Jagr’s name took a hit, though, when it was discovered that he owed $950,000 in online gambling debts. The Czech racked up the debts while gambling online from 1998 to 2002.

He owed $500,000 to CaribSports, which he agreed to a monthly payment plan with. However, CaribSports owner William Caesar leaked the story after Jagr stopped paying him.

Jagr’s money problems continued when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filed a $3.27 million lien against him for unpaid taxes. This led him to sue his accountant for failing to complete a tax form that could’ve saved him $6 million.

The good news for Jagr is that he’s stopped gambling so heavily. But his story shows what can happen when you let an internet gaming habit get out of control.

9 – Paul Hornung

Paul Hornung, a.k.a. “The Golden Boy,” is a former pro football player and Hall of Fame running back. He played for the Green Bay Packers from 1957 to 1966.

Hornung is best known for winning four NFL championships along with the first-ever Super Bowl. He’s also noteworthy for being athletic enough to play quarterback, halfback, and placekicker.

Unfortunately, the Golden Boy also gained notoriety for a serious gambling problem. He frequently engaged in high stakes gambling sessions at the Kentucky Derby and in Las Vegas casinos.

The league found out that Hornung was betting on NFL games and subsequently banned him. He was reinstated in 1964 and got to play three more seasons before retiring.

The Golden Boy later stated that legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi lobbied for his reinstatement. Hornung repaid him by staying away from gambling, not visiting Vegas casinos, and forgoing his annual trip to the Kentucky Derby.


Being a rich athlete who loves the action that gambling brings can lead to serious problems. Each of the sports heroes on this list has struggled with gambling addiction.

Some of the cases became giant problems, which resulted in the athletes being suspended or even going to prison.

Pete Rose, Paul Hornung, and Art Schlichter all drew suspensions for their gambling. Hornung was able to get reinstated, but Rose and Schlichter were never allowed to participate in their respective sports again.

Michael Jordan mysteriously retired from basketball from 1993-95. Many speculate that it was due to a secret gambling suspension.

Schlichter is perhaps the most-tragic tale on this list. He started gambling while at Ohio State and never quit – until finally being sentenced to prison in 2011.

Certain athletes have been able to rectify their situations. Barkley, Rodriguez, and Jagr have all put their gambling problems in the past to some degree.

John Daly is perhaps the most-unique case. He lost up to $57 million through casino games and still doesn’t feel bad about it.

Daly’s story aside, it’s never good when athletes start gambling for too high of stakes. But with the amount of money that these sports icons receive, we’re bound to see more bad cases in the future.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.