What if the very players you’re wagering on were also trying their luck in sports betting? Many high-profile footballers have come forward about the adrenaline rush of gambling.
While there are professional gambler football players who love to play UK casino games as much as they do on the field, some are more susceptible to addiction. Kate Richards takes us through the top five footballers in the game and their story on how they got hooked on gambling.
Michael Chopra is one of the first names everyone thinks about when discussing footballer gambling addiction, and for a good reason. The former striker states that his problem started when he began playing for Newcastle. Players would gamble on the bus and spend up to £30,000 in wagers.
For the team, it was a bonding activity, but for Michael Chopra, it became a destructive vice. At some point, he began to spend £20,000 a day on gambling. His addiction was so severe that he became bankrupt, and his father had to sell their home to pay for his debts. Chopra claims that he’s lost around £2 million to gambling.
In interviews, Michael Chopra went into detail about his footballer gambling problem. On the field, he would have complete focus. As soon as the game was over, he would immediately check his phone to see his betting results. The habit eventually forced him to play through injuries to cover his debts.
He was later admitted to the Sporting chance clinic for rehabilitation. Today he can be found working as a sports agent and broker for Only4Stars Players & Match Agency.
David Bentley, who is the gambling footballer and former winger of Tottenham and West Ham, didn’t develop an addiction at first. He made his first visit to the betting office at the age of 14. However, the habit quickly evolved into a vice once he earned more money in his career’s early stages. The 23-year-old confessed to making around a hundred bets a day on horses, greyhounds, and online poker.
When speaking about his recovery, Bentley gave credit to his agent, Robert Segal, and his girlfriend for helping him overcome his demons. He later retired due to “falling out of love with football” and now co-owns a restaurant in Marbella, Spain.
The Chelsea Icelandic striker’s gambling addiction first started when he was recovering from an injury. Many out-of-commission players report that they use casinos and sports betting to compensate for the lack of adrenaline they usually experience on the field.
In Gudjohnsen’s case, he compared winning a bet to scoring a goal. However, his habit spiralled out of control and eventually put him £6 million deep in debt. In 2009, he vowed never to gamble again and has since been working as an assistant coach for the Icelandic under-21 football team.
Paul Merson is a former midfielder for Arsenal and the English national team. Initially, he was struggling to quit drugs and alcohol until he replaced it with gambling. According to him, wagering bets was more challenging to stop than any substance he’s ever consumed.
When placing bets, Merson lost up to £30,000 in one round and eventually went into £7 million in debt. In 2008 he gave up his £300,000 home after missed mortgage payments, and like many others, agreed to go to gambling addiction rehabilitation.
In March 2019, he revealed that he had relapsed once again and talks candidly about his battle with substance abuse, gambling, and depression. The 51-year-old now works as a pundit for Sky Sports and maintains a positive outlook on life.
As an ex-Scotland International star and former Leeds United and Liverpool defender, Dominic Matteo had a thriving career between 1992 to 2009. From his serious gambling problem, Matteo accumulated around £1 million in debts and declared bankruptcy. In addition to losing the seven figures, he also admitted to betting £100,000 on a single horse.
In 2011, Matteo opened up about his addiction in his biography In My Defence and interviews promoting his book. In it, he reflects on how he gambled away his daughter’s inheritance and hopes to raise awareness and help others to avoid committing the same mistakes.
There are many factors that can contribute to the “all-or-nothing” adrenaline that wagering provides. Whether it’s peer pressure, boredom from injuries, or using it as a coping mechanism, many players have struggled with gambling addiction.
The good news is that they’re on the road to recovery — another big victory in their lifetimes. Players and experts strongly advise against gambling, but if you do, play responsibly.