By definition, gamblers are risk takers. They risk money or some sort of property to try and win more. Some will risk a lot more than they should, so they may seem a bit crazy to the average person.
To other gamblers, they may seem as normal as a morning cup of coffee.
But the stories that are behind some wagers are tales that need to be told, whether they’re tales of caution or simply ways to draw chuckles out of everyone in the room.
When sports figures get involved with sports betting, it can provide for some interesting situations. Sometimes, everything is fine and the sports figure goes on with life.
Other times, they can have tragic consequences.
No gambling scandal in the 20th century was more impactful than that of the “Chicago Black Sox”. The scandal involved a game-fixing accusation where the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in 1919.
The scandal involved 8 players on the White Sox. They were:
The team was accused of taking money to throw the series from a gambler and racketeer names Arnold Rothstein.
The 8 people were actually indicted and went to trial, but were found innocent.
Despite the finding of innocence, the baseball commissioner banned all 8 players involved for life from the sport.
In later years, players would come forward and admit their parts and regret in the scandal.
The story has been the subject of several television shows, movies, books, and even music.
One of the more detestable stories involving gambling and sports involved NFL player Michael Vick.
Vick owned a company called Bad Newz Kennels. The company was investigated and evidence was found that Vick and one of his cousins were operating a dogfighting operation.
As the investigation continued details of the abuse, torture, and killing of dogs that weren’t winning came out. In addition, the stories of gambling on the fights and drugs being involved emerged.
Vick and his co-conspirators were indicted by a federal grand jury of running an illegal dogfighting business.
Federal prosecutors were moving forward with racketeering charges under the RICO statutes.
Vick and his co-conspirators agreed to plea bargains. As part of the plea, Vick admitted the following:
While on bail, Vick tested positive for marijuana, which caused the judge to order electronic monitoring and implement a 10 pm to 6 am curfew.
As part of the agreement, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison. He agreed to deposit $1 million in an escrow account for the continued care of the dogs rescued from his enterprise. They’d need care for the rest of their lives. He also faced state charges in Virginia. He pled guilty in Virginia and was sentenced to a 3 year suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine.
He started serving his federal sentence ahead of time by surrendering in November 2007. He was sentenced to his 23 months in December 2007 and was released in July 2009.
In 1992, there were 4 states that allowed sports betting. The states were Oregon, Delaware, Montana, and Nevada.
With the advent of the internet, the federal government looked to define the legal status of sports betting nationally. As a result, they passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, (PASPA) also known as the Bradley Act.
The main text of the law stated:
(1) a governmental entity to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact, or
(2) a person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote, pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity, a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based, directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.
The law carved out exemptions for any state that had a sports betting law enacted by January 1, 1994. This was done because such a law was in the works for New Jersey, but it failed to pass by the deadline.
Over the next 15 years, New Jersey was left in the cold regarding sprits betting while neighboring Delaware was able to allow it.
By 2010, New Jersey was finally ready to allow sports betting but was essentially kneecapped by PASPA.
So, New Jersey voters in 2011 voted for a state constitutional amendment that would permit sports gambling. The next year, the NJ State Legislature enacted the Sports Wagering Act, allowing sports betting at New Jersey casinos and racetracks.
Part of the federal PASPA law had a clause as to who had standing if it was violated. The clause stated:
“A civil action to enjoin a violation of section 3702 may be commenced in an appropriate district court of the United States by the Attorney General of the United States, or by a professional sports organization or amateur sports organization whose competitive game is alleged to be the basis of such violation.”
So under this clause, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball filed suit in August 2012 to challenge the law.
New Jersey’s defense to the suit was they knew their law likely violated PASPA but argued that PASPA violated the 10th Amendment’s protection against anti-commandeering federal laws that stripped the power of the state to repeal their own sports gambling ban.
In court, New Jersey lost. So they appealed.
At the appeals court, they again found for the sports leagues, ruling that the state law violated PASPA and prevented New Jersey from enacting the law. However, the Appeals Court also ruled that PASPA did not prevent New Jersey from repealing any existing laws it had.
So, New Jersey repealed the sports betting ban they had on the books, which caused the same leagues to file a suit against them again. The leagues won at both the court and appeals level, forcing an appeal to the US Supreme Court.
The case, Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, was heard in December 2017. In May 2018 in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of PASPA were unconstitutional as they commandeered power from the states and. in a 6-3 decision, determined that the whole of PASPA was unconstitutional.
This decision is the most important case regarding gambling in the United States. With this ruling, states have the power to decide about gambling within their borders and not the federal government.
I can’t imagine any adult not knowing about the story of Pete Rose.
Pete Rose was a legendary baseball player. He was known as “Charlie Hustle”. During his playing career, he held 19 major league records and 7 National League records.
After 21 years in the league, Rose returned to the Cincinnati Reds as a player-manager. He stayed in the role until he retired as a player in November 1986.
As the manager, Rose continued on. In 1989, stories started to emerge about Rose gambling on baseball.
A story broke in April 1989 in Sports Illustrated about Rose’s gambling habits.
Major League Baseball hired an outside investigator to investigate the story about Rose.
In May, the investigator informed the commissioner about Rose’s alleged gambling activities in 1985 and 1986 and compiled a day-by-day account of Rose’s alleged betting on baseball games in 1987. The report documented his alleged bets on 52 Reds games in 1987, where Rose wagered a minimum of $10,000 a day.
Rose denied the charges.
After an attempt to sue the commissioner in state court to stop further actions against him, Rose’s case was moved to federal court. When this happened, Rose knew he had less of a chance of winning, so he entered into negotiations with the MLB.
In August 1989, Rose agrees to be placed on baseball’s ineligible list.
Rose accepted that there was a factual reason for the ban. MLB agreed to make no formal finding with regard to the gambling allegations.
According to baseball’s rules, Rose could apply for reinstatement in one year.
When probed by the press about the ability to reinstate, the commissioner stated “There is absolutely no deal for reinstatement. That is exactly what we did not agree to in terms of a fixed number of years.”
The commissioner died of a heart attack the following week.
In January 2004, Rose finally admitted publicly to wagering on baseball games and specifically on Reds games but said he never bet against the Reds.
The rules about gambling on baseball were in place due to the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919.
The scandal involved the Chicago White Sox throwing games against the same team that Rose played for and admitted gambling on, the Cincinnati Reds.
Antoine Walker was a solid basketball player. He spent 7 of his 12 year NBA career with the Boston Celtics.
His career saw him win 1 NBA Championship, 3 All-Star spots, and was selected as part of the All-Rookie First Team in 1997.
Walker earned over $100 million during his career, but his extravagant lifestyle drained almost his entire fortune.
Part of Walker’s vices was a penchant for gambling.
By July of 2009, Walker had run up debts totaling over $770,000 to 3 different casinos. To pay the debt, Walker wrote checks to each of the casinos. The checks bounced.
He was arrested shortly after for felony bad check writing. He initially pled not guilty to the charges. But, a year later, he agreed to plead guilty to 1 count of felony bad check writing. He was given probation and was to work on paying off the debt.
Shortly before Walker was arrested, he had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida. His filings claimed assets of $4.3 million but he had debts totaled over $12.7 million. Walker had earned over $108 million during his NBA career.
The current head coach of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes had an 18-year career as a player and then moved on to coaching.
But apparently, his coaching career wasn’t lucrative enough for him.
In 2006, Tocchet was charged with financing a nationwide gambling ring based out of New Jersey. The complaint stated that several active NHL players were customers.
The accusations resulted in Tocchet and Janet Jones (Wayne Gretzky’s wife) to file suit against the state of New Jersey for $50 million each. (Gretzky was the head coach of the Coyotes at the time and Tocchet was an assistant coach).
A few months after the suit was filed, a former New Jersey state trooper admitted that he and Tocchet were partners in the gambling enterprise. He agreed to testify against Tocchet.
In May 2007, Tocchet pled guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling. In August 2007, Tocchet was sentenced to 2 years probation in exchange for his plea.
When asked about the original complaint against him, Tocchet stated “It’s not a hockey-related issue, it’s a football thing. And at this time I can’t comment any further.”
In February 2008, Tocchet returned to his position with the Coyotes but had to agree to not engage in any form of gambling.
In October 1993, Michael Jordan retired from basketball. He cited the murder of his father 3 months prior and a lack of enjoyment of the game as the reasons.
However, conspiracy theorists believe it was for another reason.
During the 1993 playoffs, Jordan was seen in casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey the night before his game with the New York Knicks.
Later that year, Jordan had admitted to the fact that he had to cover gambling debts of $57,000. During that same period, author Richard Esquinas claimed that he had won $1.25 million from Jordan playing golf.
Since gambling is a big no-no in basketball, it is speculated that the NBA Commissioner David Stern wanted to suspend him to send a message, but did not want the bad publicity as they saw what happened to Pete Rose.
With Jordan being arguably the best player in the league at the time, Stern needed a way out. So a compromise was made with Jordan to secretly suspend him and call it “retirement”.
When asked in 1995 and again in 2006, Stern denied that any secret suspension was ever in effect. Jordan would deny this multiple times as well.
Jordan would discuss his gambling in a 60 Minutes interview stating “Yeah, I’ve gotten myself into situations where I would not walk away and I’ve pushed the envelope. Is that compulsive? Yeah, it depends on how you look at it. If you’re willing to jeopardize your livelihood and your family, then yeah.”
But Jordan flatly denied that gambling ever jeopardized his family or career.
Charles Barkley is known as a prolific gambler. In an interview in 2007, Barkley admitted to over $10 million in gambling losses. Among these was a $2.5 million loss playing blackjack over a 6 hour period.
But he does have some big wins as well. Prior to the interview, earlier that year, he won over $700,000 playing blackjack and betting on Super Bowl XLI.
The next year, the Wynn Las Vegas casino claimed in a complaint that Barkley owed over $400,000 from gambling that he did the previous October. He immediately paid the debt and took the blame for the delay in payment.
When asked about his gambling, he said “It’s not a problem. If you’re a drug addict or an alcoholic, those are problems. I gamble for too much money. As long as I can continue to do it I don’t think it’s a problem. Do I think it’s a bad habit? Yes, I think it’s a bad habit. Am I going to continue to do it? Yes, I’m going to continue to do it.”
After the Wynn Las Vegas event, Barkley stated on a pre-game show that he was a commentator on “I’ve got to stop gambling…I am not going to gamble anymore. For right now, the next year or two, I’m not going to gamble… Just because I can afford to lose money doesn’t mean I should do it.”
One of the more infamous scandals in college basketball involved the 1951 CCNY Basketball team as well as 6 other teams.
The scandal came about when Junius Kellogg, a player from Manhattan College was offered $1,000 (almost $10,000 in 2019 dollars) to shave points on a game against DePaul. He refused.
Kellogg went to his coach, Ken Norton and told him about the offer.
Norton sent Kellogg to the district attorney. The district attorney convinced Kellogg to wear a wire to get evidence against the conspirators.
In February 1951, the police set up an undercover sting operation and 7 men were arrested for fixing games.
When all the evidence was in, 32 players from 7 schools admitted to fixing 86 games over the period from 1947 to 1950.
The results of the scandal Kentucky had to cancel the 1952-53 season. CCNY would de-emphasize sports and drop down to Division III play. Long Island University shut down all athletics until 1957 and didn’t go back to Division I until the mid-1980s.
McKinley was a bright young football player who was drafted as a 5th round pick out of South Carolina to the Denver Broncos in the 2009 draft.
In the 8th game of his first season with the Broncos, McKinley was injured and put out for the rest of the season.
He was still injured at the start of the next season.
In his time off, he had rung up over $100,000 in gambling debt.
In addition to his injury and his financial problems, McKinley suffered from severe depression.
On September 20, 2010, McKinley got ahold of a gun and shot himself in the head. The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office ruled McKinley’s death a suicide.
While many sports stars have the money to gamble, in many cases it wreaked havoc on their careers. Men like Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Kenny McKinley never recovered from the issues they incurred due to gambling.
Conversely, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley have enough money to support their desire to gamble and it never (officially) affected their careers.
And while some try to rehabilitate themselves, others, like Michael Vick, may never see redemption for the vile and contemptuous behavior in his dog fighting ring where he murdered and abused those animals. A decade later, most, if not all are probably gone, but I don’t think he’ll ever live it down in the public’s eyes.
In the next few years, sports gambling will be expanded to as many as 20 states. The striking down of PASPA had made it possible. Some states were gearing up to allow sports betting a few months before the Supreme Court handed down their decision, convinced that the 9 justices would support the assertion that PASPA violated the 10th amendment.
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