- Aug 4
Gambling addiction can pose significant problems for a person’s health and finances, and pro athletes are just as susceptible. While many enjoy occasional gambling, the hobby can become a full-blown addiction when a person experiences a compulsive urge to gamble despite the consequences.
Many of these pro athletes with gambling addictions accumulated large debts, borrowed or stole from family members, experienced legal troubles and faced career repercussions. Fortunately, many found recovery, which requires determination and a lifelong commitment to change. Learn more about gambling problems in the professional sports world and how treatment can help you regain control over your life.
Here are 13 professional athletes with documented gambling addictions.
1. John Daly
John Daly is known as the 1991 PGA Championship winner as well as a problem gambler. In 2016, after scanning his tax records, he determined that he’d lost between $55 million and $75 million on gambling — over twice as much as his original estimation.
A particularly distressful event occurred after winning $750,000 at the World Golf Championship. Following the win, Daly recounts that he went straight to Las Vegas — losing millions in mere hours by playing high-stake slot machines. He says most of his losses over the 15 years he struggled with gambling resulted from blackjack and slots, the latter of which he played two days straight without taking a break.
Nowadays, Daly’s gambling is under better control, and he no longer allows himself to lose so much at the slots. In a recent interview, he expresses the immense financial and health difficulties addiction has had on his life, explaining that his cancer diagnosis has much to do with his lifestyle.
2. Wayne Rooney
British footballer Wayne Rooney is no stranger to the media, as he’s made recent headlines with arrests over intoxication and drunk-driving convictions. His struggle with gambling addiction has proved to be one of the most difficult to overcome.
At just 20 years old, Rooney had amassed a gambling debt of over a million dollars due to wages on soccer, dogs and horses, among many other online casino visits and bets. Two years later, it was reported that he lost £500,000 — or $625,508 — in just two hours in a Manchester casino.
Rooney claims boredom and immaturity led to these gambling stints, and he has since pledged to control the habit and start down a healthier path.
3. Rick Tocchet
As a former professional hockey player and current coach, Rick Tocchet’s ice hockey career has spanned much of his life. But in 2007, he made headlines when it was reported that he had a bookmaking side career and was exposed as the leader of an illegal nationwide gambling ring. After pleading guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling, his involvement in the ring forced a two-year leave of absence from the NHL.
The following year, he returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As the current coach of the Arizona Coyotes, he’s returned to his athletic roots and has put his gambling problems in the past.
4. Pete Rose
The legendary baseball player and all-time hits leader Pete Rose is less known for his accomplishments and more for his habits off the field. While he’s won three World Series rings and three batting titles and made the All-Star team 17 times, Rose struggled to end his gambling habit.
During his time as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, it was reported that he bet up to $10,000 per day, every day. An investigation into these habits concluded that he’d wagered on Cincinnati both winning and losing. His sports gambling was deemed more condemning — as the manager, he could have easily influenced the team’s results.
While he denied these allegations, the MLB permanently banned him from the league in 1989, making him the first and only player ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose began treatment for his addiction afterward, though he made Ohio’s first legal sports bet in 2023.
5. Charles Barkley
The 11-time NBA All-Star and 1993 MVP award winner Charles Barkley began struggling with gambling after retiring from basketball in 1997. In a 2006 ESPN interview, he admitted to losing $10 million on casino gains while denying his addiction. In 2008, Wynn Las Vegas threatened to press criminal charges after Barkey failed to repay a large debt.
While he was able to cover the debt and avoid criminal charges, his reputation took a hit, and he was forced to admit his problem with gambling. While Barkley revealed that he still gambles occasionally, he says he has better control over it and no longer plays for as high of stakes. His story is one of the most well known regarding NBA players gambling and facing several consequences.
6. Floyd Mayweather
Floyd “Money” Mayweather is known for his spending habits, whether it’s on expensive cars or high fashion. While he retired from boxing in 2017, he continues to compete in exhibition bouts and make news for his million-dollar bets. It was reported that Mayweather had recently won nearly $3 million betting on a college football game. He often posts pictures of his winning tickets to his millions of Twitter followers and regularly bets $25,000-$400,000 per ticket, according to the social media account.
While Mayweather hasn’t admitted to a problem with gambling, he seems to be following a pattern indicative of an addiction. The phases include a winning stage, where the gambler gets a “rush” from gambling and increases the size of the bets to experience it again. The second is the losing phase, where the gambler displays their winnings to cover up the losses they’ve experienced, which might be true as evidenced by his Twitter.
Finally, the desperation phase occurs when the gambler slips into a state of hopelessness, often experiencing issues with loved ones and arrests. Mayweather was recently released from jail after serving time for domestic crimes. A proper assessment of these symptoms often reveals a gambling addiction.
7. Michael Jordan
While the basketball legend Michael Jordan is known as one of the greatest players of all time, he is also known for his avid gambling. From marathon poker sessions to a casino night in Atlantic City that cost him $165,000, the six-time NBA Champion has had his fair share of losses. In 1993, a San Diego businessman reported that Jordan owed him a staggering $1.25 million over a 10-day golfing binge.
As one of the highest-paid NBA players, Jordan was regularly featured in stories of betting thousands — or even millions — at one time across golf courses and casinos in the country. While the origins of his compulsive gambling are unknown, they date back to at least his high school days. The habit followed him into college, as a $5 check written in 1982 recently went up for auction, money that was won at a pool table.
In 1992, Jordan reportedly gambled against some of the greatest sports players in the world, from Magic Johnson and Patrick Ewing to Charles Barkley and his own teammate, Scotty Pippen. Despite immense losses and damage to his reputation, Jordan continued to gamble after his unexpected retirement in 1993. While he claims he could end his problem with gambling at any time, no public evidence suggests he ever did.
8. Art Schlichter
The gambling addiction of Indianapolis Colts draft pick Art Schlichter resulted in the end of a promising football career. At the end of his career in 1985, Schlichter had racked up $700,000 in debt from gambling, and he was arrested in 1987 for participating in a multi-million dollar sports gambling scheme. Schlichter committed over 20 felonies since then and was charged in 2012 for violating the terms of his house arrest.
The quarterback was a first-round draft choice after graduating from Ohio State in 1982. While Schlichter had a clean record in his adolescence, the football player was suspended from the Colts after gambling away his $350,000 signing bonus during his rookie season. After being reinstated, he claimed to have gotten help for his compulsive gambling.
In 1985, he was fired from the Colts and never played football again. Three years later, he declared bankruptcy, frequently referring to his struggles with gambling addiction. Indeed, the athlete has had trouble trying to overcome the disease. In 1997, he was pulled out of a treatment program and returned to jail when caught betting.
Schlichter has faced other charges, including money laundering and stealing credit cards to sustain the addiction, often from family members. The pattern reveals how complex and powerful the cycle of gambling addiction can become, usually requiring professional intervention to address.
9. Paul Hornung
Former pro football player Paul Hornung played for the Green Bay Packers from 1957 to 1966. He’s best known for winning four NFL championships, along with the first-ever Super Bowl. He’s also remembered for playing multiple positions, including quarterback, halfback and placekicker.
While a highly skilled athlete, Hornung gained notoriety for his public battle with gambling addiction. He made frequent trips to the Kentucky Derby and Las Vegas casinos throughout his NFL career, betting in high-stakes sessions. When the league discovered he was betting upwards of $500 on NFL games, he was subsequently banned. Due to his openness about his sports gambling habits, he was reinstated in 1964 and retired after playing three more seasons.
Hornung later stated that the legendary coach Vince Lombardi lobbied for his reinstatement. Of the NFL players with gambling addiction, Hornung has found recovery, showing his gratitude to Lombardi by staying away from the casinos and forgoing his annual trips to the Kentucky Derby.
10. Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez may be known as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. However, he is no stranger to controversy. While amassing 696 home runs and over 3,000 hits in his career, the pro athlete was caught using performance-enhancing drugs while dealing with gambling problems.
While his gambling never spiraled into financial ruin or crimes, he was instead found out to have participated in a high-stakes Hollywood poker ring. One of the poker games Rodriguez participated in took place in Beverly Hills, where a fight broke out after a player refused to pay their $500,000 debt.
While Rodriguez wasn’t involved in the fight, knowing he had been in attendance was enough to draw an MLB investigation. Unlike many of the other athletes on this list, he was never suspended for gambling. He was, however, suspended in 2012 after it was revealed he had been taking performance-enhancing drugs.
11. Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr is a professional hockey player who played with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and many other teams throughout his NHL career. The decorated player scored the second-most points in NHL history, which is particularly notable, as he spent four years playing in Europe.
However, Jagr’s name took a hit when it was discovered that he owed $950,000 in gambling debts that occurred online from 1998 to 2002. His habits were discovered when he failed to cover a $500,000 debt, and the gambling website owner leaked the story.
The professional athlete’s financial problems worsened when the IRS filed a $3.27 million lien against him for unpaid taxes. He later sued his accountant for failing to complete a tax form that could have saved him $6 million. Fortunately, Jagr overcame his heavy gambling and has since led a healthier lifestyle.
12. Michael Vick
One of the NFL’s most notorious gambling cases involved Atlanta Falcons player Michael Vick. In 2007, it was discovered that he had been involved in a dog-fighting gambling ring, where he abused dogs and admitted to his role in their deaths. At least nine instances of gambling were cited as having taken place on Vick’s property, where the pro football player sponsored the fights and high-stakes gambling with purses up to $26,000.
Vick was convicted of financing and abetting the interstate dog fighting ring and spent two years in custody, starting in prison and ending in house arrest. While in prison, the quarterback provided inside knowledge about NFL players and the league to fellow inmates, allowing them to cash in illegally. After his release in 2009, he was reinstated with the Philadelphia Eagles.
13. Denny McClain
In 1968, McClain became the last MLB pitcher to win 30 games, but he quickly spiraled into a gambling addiction and legal troubles. His interest in horse betting led to his investing in a bookmaking operation. A foot injury suffered by McClain in 1967 was allegedly caused by an organized crime figure as punishment for failing to cover a lost bet.
In 1985, the pro athlete was involved in cocaine dealing and sentenced to 23 years in prison. After being released due to improper trial procedures, he made the recovery circuit with a recovery radio program.
However, he continued to have more run-ins with the law. In 1996, he was convicted of stealing millions from his meat-packing firm’s pension plan. Once interviewed about it, McClain denied his involvement. The athlete was suspended from baseball on three occasions throughout his career and lived a turbulent life after leaving the game.
Get Comprehensive Gambling Addiction Treatment at Gateway Foundation
While many pro athletes with gambling addiction were unable to escape the unhealthy cycle, many NHL, NBA and NFL players found recovery and lead successful careers to this day. While gambling addiction can be challenging to overcome, recovery is possible. At Gateway Foundation, we dedicate ourselves to providing comprehensive gambling addiction treatment.
If you or a loved one is experiencing gambling addiction, our experienced team can help. We provide various forms of therapy, group support and other holistic and evidence-based programs to help you achieve a healthier lifestyle. To learn more about our services, contact us today.