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Professional athletes are some of the most competitive people in the world. So, it does not come as a surprise that many high-profile athletes like to gamble in various forms.
Whether it is sports betting, high-stakes poker games, or those fun slot machines, we have numerous stories of big-time athletes who have gambled either casually or to the point of addiction, with some even getting into hot water in their profession.
Here is a look at 10 of the most notable pro athletes who liked to gamble.
1 Michael Jordan
Arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan was no stranger to gambling activities. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, Jordan was reportedly losing thousands of dollars on card games and golf outings.
As a member of the famed 1992 Dream Team in the Olympics, Jordan was hosting late-night poker games against his peers, including Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and teammate Scottie Pippen. He may have bested his peers on the court, but the competitive Jordan reportedly was down big at those poker games.
But betting on golf with big shots was another passion of Jordan’s to the point where he was accused in 1993 of owing someone over $1.25 million. Jordan allegedly settled his debt with the businessman for $300,000.
During the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan was spotted gambling at a casino in Atlantic City. It sparked a controversy, and in Game 3, Jordan shot just 3-of-18 from the field. But the Bulls won the game to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole.
That was 30 years ago and things were different, but it feels impossible now for a star athlete to go out to a casino and have to face questions about a gambling addiction. But Jordan dealt with that during his first 3-peat of titles with the Bulls.
He really is one of the most competitive athletes to ever exist.
2 Floyd Mayweather Jr.
While it would be sacrilegious for certain athletes to bet on sports, retired boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather is probably in the clear for his big-money wagers on college football and other sports. He can spend his money as he pleases on events he has no part in.
Mayweather is no stranger to posting his winning tickets on social media. He has no problem wagering 5-to-6 figures on sports. In the fall of 2014, Mayweather showed off betting tickets on NFL games that totaled over $4.7 million in wins.
But without posting his losses, some believe Mayweather has lost tens of millions of dollars, with some citing a figure such as $50 million for the year 2017 alone.
Ain’t that a punch to the head.
3 Charles Barkley
NBA great Charles Barkley has said he’s been gambling since the 1980s, and that on more than 10 occasions, he’s lost $1 million in one day from gambling. But while Barkley has learned to deal with his gambling addiction over the years, you can still see him on TV promoting FanDuel for bets on today’s NBA games.
Barkley has never been accused of betting on any games he played in, but he has a love for sports betting on things like golf and other leagues he was never a member of. Barkley, like Michael Jordan, was also fond of casino gaming and high-stakes poker games.
Barkley will even bet on himself in a celebrity golf tournament. In fact, Caesars had a bet that Barkley would finish in the top 75 in a tournament, and he bet $100,000 on himself to do so. His bet was refunded as part of a rule where people are not allowed to bet on events they take part in. Good for Barkley since he finished 76th.
In 2008, a Vegas casino threatened legal action over Barkley for not paying a $400,000 debt. He immediately paid it and admitted he needed to get his gambling under control.
But we bet it’s “once a gambler, always a gambler” with Chuck.
4 Phil Mickelson
Golfing great Phil Mickelson has been linked to many huge sports bets over the years. According to gambling legend Billy Walters’ 2023 book Gambler: Secrets from a Life of Risk, Mickelson placed 858 bets for $220,000 and 1,115 bets for $110,000 from 2010 to 2014.
Walters’ estimate is that Mickelson has wagered over $1 billion and lost $100 million on sports betting over the decades. The most serious allegation is that in 2012, Mickelson tried to bet $400,000 on the U.S. Ryder Cup, an event he participated in. The bet was not placed.
But Mickelson has been open about his gambling addiction, so these numbers are not fluff.
Most of you will enjoy this football season with moderation while having lots of fun and entertainment. The fantasy leagues will provide banter amongst friends and money won or lost betting won’t affect you. I wont be betting this year because I crossed the line of moderation and…— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) September 18, 2023
5 John Daly
Golfer John Daly is known for more than just his colorful outfits and blonde hair. In sitting down to write his book, Daly went through his tax records and concluded that he lost about $55 million on gambling from 1991 to 2007.
Between Mickelson and Daly, are golfers so bored with their lives that they have nothing better to do than gamble away huge sums of money?
But unlike Mickelson, Daly was not placing 6-figure bets on sports events. Daly loved the casino games and table games. He would play $5,000 to $15,000 per hand on blackjack, and he was no stranger to $5,000 slot machines.
Given that “the house always wins,” it is no surprise that Daly lost as much as he did if he was playing so often for a couple of decades.
6 Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson may have been small on the court, but he played big on it, and he gambled big too. Iverson was no stranger to casinos as he would frequent Atlantic City often while playing as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
One popular story alleges that Iverson was once kicked out of a casino for urinating in a public trash can in Atlantic City. When Iverson went to the Detroit Pistons, he was reportedly banned from 2 casinos for rude behavior, including throwing cards and chips at people when he had a losing night.
Iverson was not a casual gambler by any means. He would spend hours playing blackjack and roulette if he could.
7 Pete Rose
With baseball legend Pete Rose, we are talking about the greatest example of a player who has seen his legacy tarnished by his gambling addiction. Rose was investigated for allegations that he bet on the Cincinnati Reds as a player and manager in the 1980s. Rose said he only bet on sports such as horse racing, football, and basketball.
It was not until 2004 that Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball games he played and managed, though he denies ever betting on his team to lose those games. Detailed books of Rose’s betting logs were found to show which games and how much he bet on.
Rose received a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for his betting on games. It has also kept him out of the Hall of Fame despite being the league’s all-time leader in hits, singles, games played, plate appearances, and at-bats. Rose was a 17-time All-Star, a 3-time World Series champion, and an MVP winner.
Basically, he had the resume that would make him an easy choice for the Hall of Fame, but he may never go in for his gambling issues. It seems a bit odd that Rose gets singled out almost more for gambling than some players have for using steroids to cheat the game.
But Rose is a great example of why it is so ill-advised to bet on any game you have direct involvement with as a pro athlete.
8 Art Schlichter
Before the Pete Rose scandal, there was quarterback Art Schlichter, the No. 4 pick in the 1982 draft by the Colts. You can write a book or make a movie about how deep his gambling addiction went, but it completely derailed his career, and really his life to this day.
Schlichter joined the NFL during a 9-game strike season that did not help matters. He blew his whole signing bonus on gambling, and he was constantly doubling down and losing to the point where he owed $700,000 in gambling debts by the time the strike ended.
Schlichter also lost nearly $500,000 on basketball games in 1982-83. The bookies threatened to expose him given his NFL status, so he contacted the NFL and got the FBI involved to snitch on the bookies and get them arrested. He was suspended for the entire 1983 season, the first player to be suspended by the NFL for gambling since Paul Hornung and Alex Karras in the 1960s.
Schlichter only started 6 games in his NFL career, throwing 3 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. His NFL career ended as teams feared he never stopped gambling, which is true. Even when he was named MVP in the Arena Football League, he was found again to be betting on games.
His playing days behind him, Schlichter continued to get into serious trouble with the law through his gambling addiction. He spent a decade in prison starting in 2011 for gambling-related theft charges.
With reports of Schlichter suffering from Parkinson’s, dementia, and likely CTE from his football career, his story is one of the darkest and saddest for athletes engaging in gambling activities.
9 Paul Hornung
Before Art Schlichter, there was the infamous 1960s gambling scandal involving Golden Boy Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. Hornung was a very popular running back and kicker who rose to fame from his college football days with Notre Dame. He landed in Green Bay, which became the dynasty of the 1960s behind coach Vince Lombardi.
But even during the team’s run to 5 championships, Hornung was caught up in gambling scandals for betting on NFL games along with Karras of the Lions. Both were suspended for the 1963 season, and both were reinstated by 1964.
But Hornung did have to change his ways and cut out the trips to Las Vegas casinos and even from attending the Kentucky Derby.
Hornung and Karras were the first players the NFL ever suspended for gambling. But they both ended up in the Hall of Fame and remained relatively popular after retirement, a sharp contrast from what happened to Pete Rose in baseball.
10 Alex Rodriguez
One of the best hitters of all time, Alex Rodriguez is no stranger to controversy. He was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs during his playing days.
But when it came to gambling, poker was allegedly A-Rod’s favorite vice. He was involved in high-stakes games of poker that were also attended by Hollywood elites such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck.
Oddly enough, Rodriguez would later be involved with Jennifer Lopez, the on-and-off again partner of Affleck’s. But Rodriguez largely avoided any scrutiny for partaking in the illegal poker ring that was the subject of the book and film Molly’s Game.