Gambling Problems Can Wear Down Pro Athletes


LAS VEGAS (CN) – Money problems for former NFL running back Clinton Portis were exacerbated by gambling, as indicated by lawsuits and a federal tax lien for $459,000, but he’s not the only pro athlete who’s run into financial issues through gambling.
     The MGM Grand in May won a $287,178 default judgment against Portis for gambling debts. The casino sued him in September last year for casino markers he got in 2011.
     Combined with the IRS tax lien and a pending foreclosure on a $1 million home he bought for his mother, Portis faces significant financial challenges after earning more than $43 million during his NFL career.
     Portis says most of his money troubles came from another casino-related gamble – an investment to build an Alabama casino that eventually was raided.
     Portis is among 35 NFL players who lost a combined $43.6 million on a “Center Stage” casino investment that Alabama regulators shut down in July 2012.
     The MGM Grand sued Portis in September 2014 and sued Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach and former linebacker Joey Porter the same month over casino markers for more than $10,000 .
     The casino’s complaint against Porter was dismissed, but it was at least the second time he ran into problems for his Las Vegas gambling debts. He was arrested and jailed in California in 2012 until he paid a $70,000 debt to the Hard Rock Casino, The Associated Press reported at the time.
     The Wynn Casino sued NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley for $400,000 in gambling debts in 2008, a debt he conceded on TV while working as a broadcaster. “Yeah, I owe that; I’ll pay that,” Barkley said on the air.
     Barkley told ESPN in 2006 that he lost an estimated $10 million on gambling and said gambling was a “problem” for him.
     “I gamble too much; I gamble for too much money. And it’s something I have to address,” Barkley said.
     The same ESPN report claimed that professional golfer John Daly had lost as much as $60 million by gambling in 12 years.
     The Arizona Republic reported this year that Barkley estimated his lifetime gambling losses at close to $30 million.
     He told a Republic reporter in January that he used to try to win $1 million every time he went to Las Vegas, but more often lost money.
     “I went to Vegas a bunch of times and won a million dollars. Probably 10 times. But I’ve also went to Vegas and lost a million probably three times as much,” Barkley said.
     The NBA has instituted financial counseling for rookie players, who often find themselves flush with cash after a lifetime without it. Many pro athletes, including retired Chicago Bulls start Scottie Pippen, have filed lawsuits accusing their financial advisers of taking advantage of them, sometimes for millions.
     Las Vegas casinos do not provide special counseling for professional athletes or other high rollers but sometimes refer problem gamblers to the nonprofit Problem Gambling Center’s hotline and typically make literature on problem gambling available at betting windows, gaming tables and registration counters.
     Casinos aren’t the only places where professional athletes run into gambling problems. Pete Rose remains banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame for betting on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and he’s not likely to win his appeals now that credible reports have surfaced that he bet on games during his playing days.
     Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas was suspended and given two years probation in 2010 for bringing a gun into the team’s locker room to settle a dispute with a teammate over a poker debt.
     Barkley and fellow TNT studio analyst Kenny Smith said in January 2011 that gambling is common on team planes and locker rooms, though many NBA teams since cracked down it.
     “I’ve been on certain teams and you walk into the locker room and nobody is gambling, or walk onto a plane and nobody gambles. Then I walked into planes where I felt like I was in Vegas or in Reno,” Smith said.
     Academic studies of problem gambling among professional athletes are hard to come by, but a 2014 survey of 346 top-level professional soccer and cricket players in the United Kingdom suggests the problem gambling among professional athletes could be three times worse than among the general population. That study was done at the behest of the Professional Players Association.
     The study indicated 6.1 percent of those surveyed were problem gamblers while another 12 percent were considered to be at risk.
     “This research shows there is a significantly higher rate of gambling problems among professional sports people than the wider population,” said NatCen Social Research director Heather Wardle. “It is interesting to question why this might be. Is it due to a betting culture? Is it something about athletes’ personalities or perhaps a combination of these two?”
     In the United States, 85 percent of adults surveyed in 2008 said they had gambled at least once in their lives, 65 percent during the past year, 15 percent during the past week, and 2 to 3 percent have a gambling problem, the National Council on Problem Gambling reported.
     Three percent of male college athletes and 0.4 percent of female college athletes have a gambling problem or are at risk, according to that study.
     Sports betting is the most popular form of gambling among youths from 14 to 22 and about 25 percent of boys bet on sports, according to the study.
     College athletes who are most at risk are males from 18 to 24 who have easy access to money and to gambling, a history of family addiction, who are prone to substance abuse, are members of a racial or ethnic minority, and are highly competitive, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.
     An early onset of gambling behavior combined with a big early win, belief in one’s skill and luck or superstition and engaging in illegal gambling also are primary risk factors, the council reported.
     The report indicates that college athletes who meet at least one criterion for gambling addiction also are more likely to enjoy taking risks, have at least five drinks in one sitting, have multiple sexual partners, make impulse purchases and have friends or parents who gamble.

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