The Lure of Athletes & Gambling: Why Do Athletes Bet on Their Own Sports?

Whether it be by nature, nurture, or a bit of both, it’s no secret that athletes are competitive. As such, their drive during the game doesn’t necessarily stay in bounds — but instead bleeds into their financial assets, personal lives, and overall behavior. It comes as no surprise that some professional athletes and other prominent sports figures have established quite a reputation for their gambling activity. And not just on poker games, either — but their very own teams and games.

Considering the stakes are high — and the pockets are deep — it’s crucial to consider what psychological components and environmental circumstances feed the flame of professional athletes and their gambling.

Athletes Looking to Score Big

Problem gambling, a condition associated with financial consequences and mental health complications, may intuitively have an association with a competitive mindset that is considered normal — if not desirable — in professional sports. This potential link between sports and gambling has been in the public eye again and again. Several factors suggest that the context of competitive sports may be a possible risk factor for problem gambling.

Athletes, not unlike individuals addicted to drugs or alcohol, build up something of a tolerance to the “adrenaline rush” that comes from competition. The need to remain competitive is a phenomenon that involves turning to players, sports leagues, and their games to win big. 

If a competitive athlete begins gambling, it could take as little as one win to get hooked, and a single loss to want that win back — thus kicking off the vicious cycle. Typically, when a loss takes place in gambling, the typical reaction for a person not at risk, or is merely participating as an innocuous means of entertainment, would be not to continue. However, the competitive athlete may begin to employ particular strategies and make adjustments in how they gamble, when they gamble, and what exactly they gamble on. They create a mindset that they can create a situation that will result in a win. And with plenty of money in the bank, they have the means to try and try again.

Prominent Sports Figures with a History of Gambling

Successful professional athletes earn millions of dollars through salaries and endorsement deals — lining their pockets with the kind of money that allows them to enjoy gambling without worry. Of course, even wealthy athletes can run into financial problems when they have a gambling problem. Worse yet is that sports heroes can tarnish their reputation when gambling scandals come to light. Some athletes have had their names splashed across news headlines due to their problems, and others have gone so far as to commit criminal acts to feed their habit. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most notorious, high-stakes athletes who have a well-known gambling past:

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