Pro sports is rife with stories of athletes who love to gamble. For some it’s a harmless hobby, while others develop serious gambling problems. Perhaps the fierce competitive edge that the athletes are born with – and that enable them to become professional sportsmen to begin with – is what leads to their compulsive gambling habits. Or, maybe it’s simply the astronomical salaries that most pros receive nowadays and the need to throw some of that money around. Whatever it is, there are countless stories of pros who simply couldn’t resist that trip to the casino or phone call to their bookie.
Here are some of the most famous cases involving high-profile athletes and their connection with gambling.
One of the most known scandals in pro sports, Rose became infamous when it was revealed that he had placed bets and gambled thousands of dollars on baseball games while both a player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds. As baseball’s all-time hits leader and 17-time All-Star, Rose was a lock for the Hall of Fame until the betting allegations surfaced. In August of 1989, then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti handed Rose a lifetime ban from baseball for “conduct relating to gambling”. He denied these allegations for 14 years until finally in 2002 he owned up to betting on baseball (although he claims he never bet against his team). Major League Baseball is currently reexamining his situation and his possible induction into the Hall of Fame.
Tocchet’s is most recent story to emerge about gambling and pro sports. Tocchet has been charged with financing a nation-wide gambling ring based in New Jersey, and was forced to step down as the Assistant Coach of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. The investigation is still currently underway, and Tocchet is facing a lengthy prison term if convicted.
The scandal also threatens to tarnish the squeaky-clean image of Wayne Gretzky, who many consider to be the greatest hockey player of all time. His wife, Janet Jones Gretzky, is said to have placed illegal bets and although there is no indication that the Great One himself placed any bets, he is believed to have known about the gambling activities.
The greatest basketball player of all time and the winner of the Athlete of the Century award, Jordan’s career also hinged around allegations of problem gambling. Frequent trips to Atlantic City and Las Vegas sparked a lot of media interest, particularly when it occurred during the Playoffs. Being the basketball institution that Jordan was (and still is), his lawyers, the NBA, and his sponsors all sought very hard to keep his betting habits from the public. In 1992 an investigation was launched by the NBA into his gambling activities to determine if anything illegal had in fact taken place. Although no charges were brought against him, it is believed by some that his initial retirement in 1993 was not voluntary and rather an order from the league commissioner in an attempt to protect the reputation of the league and Jordan himself.
Although lesser-known on this side of the Atlantic, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is one of England’s biggest soccer stars. At only 18 years of age, he captured the attention of millions at the 2004 European Football Finals, netting several important goals. Recently, he has also made several appearances in the British newspaper headlines for his alleged gambling problem. He is said to have accrued a ₤900,000 gambling debt in the past five months alone. Although this figure represents a very small portion of his enormous salary, it shows that his gambling habits may be spiraling out of control. At only 20 years-old, Rooney would seem to be heading down that road which has caused so much heartache and misery to a host of other pro sportsmen.