Famous Gambling Losses That May Make You Think Twice About Betting in the UK
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Famous Gambling Losses That May Make You Think Twice About Betting in the UK

Famous Gambling Losses That May Make You Think Twice About Betting in the UK

Anyone who has ever gambled has certainly suffered a few gambling losses, mostly small. However, according to a few, high-profile gambling stories, losses can be devastating. Losing a few pounds on video slots is bad enough. But, it's far from the gambling stories and losses wealthy gamblers can tell. From famous footballers to rap stars, mind-blowing amounts of money have been gambled away in a single bet.

The fact is, gambling and football are nearly synonymous. Unfortunately, it's not just the fans, but also the players and managers falling victim to the punt. In fact, one study suggests that professional footballers are three times more likely to develop a gambling addiction than average.

Whether here in the UK, or across the pond, the amount of money that the rich and famous lose gambling is truly scandalous.


Lafferty Not Laughing

The list of footballers whose gambling escapades have made headlines is quite long. A few years ago, legendary Hearts and Northern Ireland striker, Kyle Lafferty, was caught up in controversy. At the time, Lafferty was fined £23,000 by the Football Association of Ireland for wagering on football.

Lafferty's gambling stories and losses began with £1 slot machines as a teenager. But by the time he signed on with Rangers, his “hobby” had evolved into gambling addiction.

“I’d bet on horses, but I knew nothing about horses. I absolutely still don’t have a clue,” Lafferty told the BBC. “I would just open my betting app, and bet on the horse's name or the colour of the jockey's jersey. If the horse won, it won; if not, I just moved on to the next one. I bet every day on the horses on every single race. I would bet on everything, horses, greyhounds, roulette, virtual racing.”

Eventually, Lafferty's compulsive gambling caused one online bookmaker to shut down his account. But, it was a La Liga wager that finally caught the attention of the Football Association.

Lafferty pled guilty and accepted the fine. In fact, he sees it as a blessing, since it forced him to seek help. Now, he speaks publicly about his gambling addiction and hopes that other footballers will also seek help.

Fortunately, Lafferty reined in his gambling addiction before losing everything, including his family and career.


Paul Merson's Legendary Gambling Stories Losses

Former Arsenal and England player and current Sky Sports broadcaster Paul Merson‘s gambling stories and losses are legendary. Merson not only had a gambling addiction, but also cocaine and alcohol problems. At one point, Merson was forced into a three-month rehab during the middle of the 1994 season.

As player-manager of Walsall Town in the early 2000s, Merson's battle with addiction continued. He estimates he's lost more than £7 million, including a £300,000 home after his mortgage was foreclosed. He even told his pregnant wife to drive herself to the hospital, because he was too busy betting on American football.

As recently as two years ago, Merson admitted on ITV’s Harry’s Heroes that his gambling was once again out of control. The former midfielder, who won 21 caps for England, broke down, as he revealed his recent fall from grace. He tearfully admitted he cashed in his £800,000 pension on a single betting spree and was now penniless.

Following that public breakdown, Merson went back to his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has pulled back on his gambling.


Andros Townsend Falls From Grace

Andros Townsend's gambling stories' losses included being barred from representing England at the 2013 Euro U21 Championship. Townsend's famous gambling story began when he was bored one-night watching matches in a hotel room.

The TV ads for betting apps inspired Townsend to download an app onto his phone. He immediately started betting to make the matches he was watching more fun. However, it's illegal for players to wager on football matches, and the betting company reported him to the FA. Townsend was fined £18,000 and suspended from play for four months.

"Honestly, there was nothing sinister going on. There was no betting on my team to lose, no match-fixing, no inside information," said Townsend.


Bookies Send Death Threats to Matthew Etherington

 Matthew Etherington, the former Stokes, Spurs, and West Ham winger, incurred £1.5 million in horse racing and poker losses. Etherington's gambling stories and losses eventually turned dark; the Hammers were prompted to loan him £800,000 after bookies began sending him death threats.

At the height of his Premier League career, Etherington was earning £30,000-a-week. But halfway through the month, he would have nothing but a pocketful of loose change. He would have no petrol for his car and would have to walk home from his bookie's.

Fortunately, Etherington's girlfriend, now his wife, organised an intervention with his parents. That forced him to face a few uncomfortable truths, and get the help he needed.

Since that time, he’s been outspoken about footballers and problem gambling.


Dominic Matteo Declares Bankruptcy Due to Gambling

In 2015, the former Leeds United captain declared bankruptcy, after confessing that he had accumulated more than £1 million in gambling debts. Matteo's gambling escapades included betting £200,000 on a horse, and gambling away his daughter's inheritance.

Like other footballers, Matteo's obsession with wagering began with boredom, and as a way to pass the time. And like others, it began with wagering on phone apps, and with horse racing. What began as a hobby quickly developed into full-blown gambling addiction. Matteo even bought racehorses with team-mate Garry Flitcroft and flew to the races after training sessions by helicopter.

The Leeds cult hero is now embarrassed by his gambling days; he documented his gambling stories and losses in his autobiography as a cautionary tale to others.


Michael Chopra Banned from Betting on the Horses

Former Newcastle striker, Michael Chopra, lost an estimated £2 million from gambling. At one point, he was betting up to £30,000 every day with other players.

During a trial concerning match-fixing at Newcastle Crown Court, Chopra claimed he was threatened by loan sharks for running up massive debts; in fact, Chopra says he joined Sunderland because he wanted to use the large signing-on fee to pay off those debts. His father, Minty, also testified in court that he sold his house to pay off his son’s gambling debts.

Chopra has been banned for 10 years from betting on horse racing; the sentence was for his involvement with fixing horse races and using inside information to cast wagers.


Eiður Guðjohnsen Beat Boredom by Losing

While out with injuries, Chelsea striker, Eiður Guðjohnsen, like other footballers, first began wagering to beat boredom. In just 5 months, the Icelander lost £400,000 at local casinos. He would bet up to £2,000 on a single roulette spin, as well as playing blackjack. His losses quickly added up to more than £6 million, which he owed to different banks.

"I can easily see how young people can get hooked gambling and I'm happy to stand as a warning to others not to get hooked," said Guðjohnsen.


John Hartson Loses £5,000 to Gambling

In an interview with the BBC, John Hartson, recovering gambling addict, and former top-flight striker said gambling was ‘rife’ among footballers, estimating that at least half of every team gambles.

Hartson's gambling stories and losses began at the age of 16; while in Luton Town's Youth Training Scheme, he stole a bank card from his host family, withdrawing £50 to gamble. He was suspended from the program and sent back to Swansea but shortly afterward was allowed to return to Luton.

Over the years, £50 rose to £5,000 wagers on horse racing and cricket. In fact, Hartson estimates his gambling losses rose as high as £400,000.

After many Gambler’s Anonymous meetings, Hartson hasn’t placed a wager in many years. Now, instead of placing punts, Hartson is helping other players to stop.

As many as six top-flight players and managers, including Kyle Lafferty, have called him for help.

“Managers say, ‘John, I’ve got a player, he’s got a real bad gambling problem. Can you talk with him? Can you help him? Can you take him to a Gambler's Anonymous meeting? Absolutely, I’ll help. I don’t care who he plays for, it makes no difference to me,” says Hartson.


Michael Jordan Has a Few Gambling Stories and Losses

Athletes with gambling problems are not confined to British footballers; NBA icon Michael Jordan is known not only as the greatest basketball player of all-time but also as a gambler. Unfortunately, like many athletes, his intense, competitive spirit also led to gambling addiction.

Jordan not only loves basketball but also golf; Jordan has been known to bet huge sums of money on the green, even against top-flight golfers. Jordan's buddy and former President and General Manager of the San Diego Sports Arena, Richard Esquinas, witnessed Jordan's legendary gambling stories and losses.

For example, Esquinas recounts the time that Jordan went on a “golf betting binge” that lasted 10 days. That was back in September 1991, and when it was over, Jordan was out by nearly $1.2 million. Fortunately, Jordan was able to win some of that back on the green. The NBA legend was also able to talk himself out of $300,000 of gambling debt.

Jordan achieved that monumental amount of loss, by placing insanely high, $100,000 wagers on each hole.

As it stands today, Michael Jordan is worth more than $1 billion, so his gambling habit hasn't ruined him. And there is no word that he's ever been to a Gambler's Anonymous meeting.


Rap Icons Bet Millions

Long-time rapper, producer, and music executive Birdman is a zealous sports bettor. Unfortunately for Birdman, wagering on the Super Bowl has been a losing bet.

As a fan of the New England Patriots, Birdman felt confident about the odds going into Super Bowl XLVI. So confident, that he wagered $1 million on the Patriots to win, against fellow rapper 50 Cent, who bet on the New York Giants. The New York Giants claimed victory and 50 Cent claimed $1 million from Birdman. But Birdman's Super Bowl luck didn't end there.

For Super Bowl LII, Birdman once again bet $100,000 on the Patriots for $100,000. Fellow rapper AR-Ab bet $100,000 on the Philadelphia Eagles. Once again, Birdman lost.


Big Business High Roller

Terrance Watanabe inherited Oriental Trading Company from his father, Harry Watanabe. The American businessman risked that fortune, valued in the hundreds of millions, at the tables in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, he was not a very lucky gambler, and his gambling story losses are epic.

While most high rollers play games like blackjack or baccarat, which involve a level of skill, Watanabe preferred games of pure chance. Casinos referred to him as a “house player,” meaning he liked playing games that were tipped in the house’s favor.

Today, Wantanabe claims that he suffers from a gambling disorder and that the Vegas casinos knowingly took advantage of him.

Moreover, he has claimed that the casinos in Vegas showered him with drinks and drugs, to keep him gambling. Surprisingly, the Nevada state gambling regulators agreed, and fined Caesars Palace $225,000 for misconduct.

However, that fine seems insignificant, when you consider the insane amount of money Terrance Watanabe gambled away. According to the Wall Street Journal, Terrance Wantanabe's gambling stories losses added up to $127 million in just one year.

Terrance Watanabe is widely regarded as having the biggest losing streak in Las Vegas history. In fact, all that fun consumed much of his personal fortune, which took 20 years to build up. It also was a boon to Harrah's Entertainment; the casino giant derived around 5.6% of its Las Vegas income directly from Mr. Watanabe in 2007.


Vegas Dave Takes a Dive

Big-time sports bettor, Dave Oancea, nicknamed Vegas Dave, was known for showing off on social media.

Unfortunately in 2016, Vegas Dave's social media was to be filled with gambling story losses. Dave took out a $1 million wager at UFC 200, on a female MMA fighter Miesha Tate. But once Tate hit the mat against Amanda Nunes, things went badly for both Dave and Ms. Tate.

It only took around three minutes for Nunes to take Tate out, costing Vegas Dave $l million. But Vegas Dave played it cool on social media; he focused more on Ms. Tate's broken nose then lost $1 million. While feigning concern over a female MMA fighter's broken nose is chivalrous, losing $1 million surely hurt more.

Vegas Dave still has active Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, as well as his own website. But, in 2019, a federal court judge clipped Vegas Dave's wings, leveling a 3-year sportsbook ban. Originally, he faced 19 felony counts for allegedly using other people’s Social Security numbers to open player accounts at Las Vegas casinos. The transactions allegedly amounted to more than $1.2 million.

However, Dave was able to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor by admitting to creating a violation of procedures and record keeping. Also, he has agreed to relinquish $550,000.


19th Century English Daredevil Loses His Life in a Bet

While the gambling stories and losses described above are huge, the bet a 19th-century lad from Shropshire ended with his life. Back in 1875, daredevil Matthew Webb made a name for himself by becoming the first man to successfully swim across the English Channel.

Webb, also an admitted gambler, was able to support himself by wagering against the public on his epic swimming feats. For example, besides winning the bet that he would successfully swim the English Channel, he also won a fortune by swimming for 74 straight hours. Needless to say, Mr. Webb had a winning level of stamina.

Webb also spent quite a bit of time in America; in fact, in 1881, he took up residence in the United States, winning a few swimming challenges. But, it wasn’t enough to fully support himself. So, Webb did what any high-rolling gambler would do; he bet his life on his craziest challenge yet.

He took wagers on whether or not he could swim through the ferocious whirlpool rapids found below Niagara Falls. Locals considered the bet suicidal. The amount he would receive if was successful was $10,000, which would roughly be worth $400,000 today.

On July 24th, 1883, Webb dove into the Niagara River, from a small boat stationed at the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. Sadly, he died, just as he was entering the vicious whirlpool. Having lost the bet, he was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, in Niagara Falls, New York.


Final Thoughts

As long as there is gambling, you can bet there will be gamblers willing to risk it all for a record-breaking payout. It's no coincidence that thrill-seeking and competitive athletes are often hooked on compulsive gambling.

These extreme gambling stories of losses should serve as cautionary tales to everyone. Things can quickly turn for the worst if you bet recklessly. While most people would never put $100 million on the line, compulsive gamblers will. Let these cautionary tales inform you to always wager within your means, and stop before you lose it all.

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