Professional athletes are ultra-competitive individuals, some to the point that they will do just about anything to win on the field of battle. It is this trait that has helped mold individuals who became respected and revered as the greatest athletes of their time. Men such as Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant unquestionably possessed physical gifts that allowed them to excel at extraordinary levels, but each of them also, during their times, found that other gear that propelled them past opponents. That competitive nature and drive has, throughout the history of pro sports, separated talented athletes from all-time legends.
It is that same characteristic that has driven athletes to pursue gambling ventures. For some athletes, gambling serves as just another test and another way that they can compete and, most importantly, win. Others, however, get caught up in the high that comes with risking thousands upon thousands of dollars – even millions of dollars in some cases – all on bets. As much as casinos have drawn in pro athletes over the years, others have put up large amounts of cash while participating in card games, golf matches and other encounters. Money to spend can, in their eyes, become money that makes even more income.
It should come as no surprise that all-time great athletes and icons of their sports were also notorious gamblers. This includes the man who is widely regarded as the best player in the history of the National Basketball Association and a person who has been linked with what could have been the biggest gambling controversy in the history of pro sports; if certain rumors are to be believed, that is. Then, there is the player-turned-manager who thought, for whatever reasons, that he was above the rules and that he could get away with gambling. It turns out that he wagered more than money, as he ultimately lost his legacy.
20 Disco Inferno
Known as Disco Inferno from the old World Championship Wrestling promotion, Glen Gilberti was one of 27 people arrested during a gambling bust in 2007. Gilberti, who also worked in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, was allegedly involved in a high-stakes no-limit hold-em poker game, one that had an entry fee of $10,000. Here is some sound advice for anybody willing to put such a large amount of cash on any poker game: Just go to Las Vegas, guys. You may still lose your money, but at least you won't have to worry about the door of a home being kicked in by the police.
19 Manny Pacquiao
Years before he was publicly speaking about his faith, Manny Pacquiao was living a secret life that included a nasty gambling habit. It was alleged that Pacquiao once required a $2 million advance from one of the purses of a fight in order to pay off gambling debts. That version of the fighter is now said to be gone, and Pacquiao has credited his strong religious beliefs for helping turn his life around. Regardless of whether or not he has conquered such demons, boxing fans are still left with a bitter taste in their mouths after the so-called “Fight of the Century” involving Pacquiao and another fighter in this list failed to deliver inside of the ring.
18 Kenny McKinley
The pro football and sports worlds were shocked when Denver Broncos player Kenny McKinley shot and killed himself on September 20, 2010. It was later discovered that McKinley had a deep gambling problem, one that cost him a fortune and one that led him to experience feelings of depression. McKinley borrowed money from a teammate and friend to cover his debts, and it is widely believed that his financial problems had a significant role in his suicide. McKinley was just 23 years old when he took his own life, far too young for any young man with such talent to leave the world in that way.
17 David Bentley
It has been said for years that English football is plagued by a serious gambling problem that needs to be addressed. David Bentley was a promising midfielder during his early days as a professional, but he also had a dark past of gambling that began, by his own admission, when he was only 14 years old. Bentley has stated that he was, during the worst days of his gambling addiction, making up to 100 bets a day. He retired from football at the age of 29 years old, having never really come all that close to the promise that he showed as a young player. Oh, what could have been.
16 Paul Hornung
What was a legendary pro football career was almost sunk for good because of gambling in the 1960s at a time when betting on games was a massive problem for the National Football League. Paul Hornung was famously banned for the entire 1963 season because he bet on football games and also associated with gamblers, and it is believed that his punishment could have been even more severe had he not been so honest about his business endeavors. All would eventually be forgiven, and Hornung went on to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
15 Jaromir Jagr
Let the story of Jaromir Jagr serve as a lesson to all pro athletes out there: When you stop paying on a line of credit borrowed from a gambling source, that source will likely happily go to the press to out you. That is exactly what happened to Jagr in 1997, and that would not be the only time that he would find himself in hot water because of gambling. Jagr has been an ageless National Hockey League star who has kept himself in great shape even during what should be the twilight of his career. He probably would have been wise to avoid gambling when he was a younger player.
14 Wayne Rooney
Time has done a favor to Wayne Rooney in that his gambling past has, for the most part, been forgotten about by many who have followed the career of the Manchester United and England Men's National Team player. Rooney lost quite a bit of money because of gambling early on his career. It has even been alleged that he blew through around £2 million via gambling. Rooney has, to his credit, not made much news because of gambling as of late, and the hope moving forward is that he has been much smarter with the way that he has handled his cash.
13 Denny McLain
The rise and then epic fall of right-handed pitcher Denny McLain is a subject that has been touched upon in television specials and in articles. McLain made history as the last 30-game winner of the 20th century, but he is more so remembered for his run-ins with the law. Along with womanizing and drug use, McLain has been said to have a “lifelong obsession” with gambling. The pitcher who rose to stardom while playing for the Detroit Tigers has been linked with organized crime, and he has served time in prison. He was out of Major League Baseball before he turned 30 years old.
12 Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker should have been set for life thanks to the millions upon millions of dollars that he made during his basketball career. Walker had numerous questionable habits, and gambling was one of them. In December of 2011, Walker was ordered to pay off over $750,000 in gambling debts. He would later file for bankruptcy. Walker serves as one of many examples for younger athletes just breaking into the pros that money earned during a career can be lost even quicker than it is made. Regardless of anything that he has said on the matter, one has to think that Walker regrets many of the decisions that he made.
11 John Daly
Pro golfer John Daly has lived his life as he has wanted, and he probably could not care less what any of us think about that. Daly has not only enjoyed his fair share of gambling, smoking and drinking during his career. He has boasted about those activities in interviews and in a country music album that needs to be heard to be truly appreciated. Daly has seemingly never given much thought to his image and to his marketability, and that has made him somewhat of a cult hero among casual sports fans who more often than not ignore the PGA and other golf competitions.
10 Babe Ruth
There is quite a bit of humor in the way that we remember certain historic sports icons. Babe Ruth was Major League Baseball royalty unlike any other American athlete before him, and his personality along with his talents made him a superstar in every sense of the word. Ruth also had many vices, and gambling was one of them. Those stories and also the amounts of money that Ruth wagered have been lost to history, as he played in an era when certain tales were left untouched by reporters. One can only imagine how Ruth would be viewed in a world dominated by around-the-clock coverage and social media.
9 Charles Barkley
Critics can say whatever they want about the exploits of current National Basketball Association analyst and former player Charles Barkley. The man should be commended for being so open about the life that he has lived. Barkley has never been shy about his gambling past, and he once estimated that he lost around $30 million total on such wagers. There is a great irony in the fact that a gambler such as Barkley has become one of the television faces of NCAA Tournament coverage. Who could ever imagine that an organization such as the NCAA would dare to be hypocritical in any way?
8 Art Schlichter
The story of Art Schlichter has had numerous twists and turns, and it is one that became downright sad. A product of Ohio State, Schlichter had plenty of character concerns hovering over him when he entered the National Football League. All of those rumors proved to be spot-on, as Schlichter demonstrated that his inability to control his gambling was far greater than was his desire to be a starting pro quarterback. Schlichter earned himself a ban because of his gambling ways, and those demons have resulted in the former player completing multiple stints behind bars.
7 Alex Rodriguez
One would have to look far and wide to find a Major League Baseball player more polarizing than Alex Rodriguez. Detractors who have hit out at A-Rod could point out Rodriguez's well-known past that included the player using performance enhancing drugs, while fans of the New York Yankees have embraced him largely because he has played well in 2015. Along with the numerous transgressions that Rodriguez has been accused of committing during his career, it is also been reported that A-Rod enjoys his poker games from time to time. The mental image of Rodriguez sitting at a poker table with a large cigar hanging out of his mouth is tremendous.
6 Michael Vick
Football fans and those who were outraged upon reading about the case are aware that Michael Vick was imprisoned because of his role in an illegal and horrific dog fighting ring. Part of that operation involved bets being placed on those fights. Vick saw a promising career that included numerous endorsement deals go up in smoke, but he did well to become a great redemption story after he was released from prison. The quarterback has since served as a mentor for younger players, and the hope is that others will not make mistakes that Vick made years ago.
5 Daniel Koellerer
Odds are that the majority of casual sports fans would have forever forgotten the name Daniel Koellerer if not for the scandal that landed him in history books. Koellerer became the first tennis player to earn a lifetime ban in 2011 after he was found guilty of fixing matches. Before that, Koellerer was suspended for breaking rules on gambling. Some people never learn, and that was the case with Koellerer. While he was never the top player in the world, Koellerer made over $700,000 in career winnings during his pro career, a career that was killed by his own doing. Hope it was worth it.
4 Ric Flair
Pro wrestlers who are unwilling or unable to separate their in-ring characters from their actual selves are said to be “living the gimmick.” It could be argued that nobody in the history of the business has lived his gimmick quite like the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair has over the past several decades. The gambling tales that have been told by Flair during interviews and documentaries are legendary, and they go far beyond his days in group the Four Horsemen. Anybody who has ever witnessed Flair out in public and in his glory has seen something remarkable to behold. Woo!
3 Floyd Mayweather
Some pro athletes choose to keep certain aspects of their lives such as the amount of money that they risk while gambling private. Pro boxer Floyd Mayweather has taken a much different approach. Mayweather has not just bragged about the large amounts of money that he has risked and won while gambling. He has posted proof, such as receipts, of his winnings on social media websites such as Twitter. Mayweather's gambling victories have been impressive, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he could have a career later in life on advising other gamblers; not that he needs the money, of course.
2 Michael Jordan
There have, over the years, been all kinds of Michael Jordan gambling stories floated out there by supposed insiders and by people who claimed to have knowledge of Jordan's love of wagering. It has even been suggested by some that Jordan's inability to control these urges had a hand in his first retirement from the National Basketball Association. Those conspiracy theories have been proven to be accurate, but it is no secret that Jordan has been more than happy to put his own money on the line, particularly while he was out on the golf links playing against friends and foes.
1 Pete Rose
Perhaps the biggest shame of all when it comes to Pete Rose is that he will forever first be remembered for the gambling scandal that sunk his Major League Baseball career and one that has kept him out of the Hall of Fame for years. Undeniably one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, Rose has been made an outsider in the game all because he could not defeat the urge to put money on the outcomes of sporting events. While there are plenty of fans who think that Rose should be forgiven before having his day at Cooperstown, others believe that Rose earned his punishment.