Footballers are paid mega-bucks to play football and entertain fans around the world. But with so much money to burn through it's inevitable that some players look for exciting ways to spend it – with gambling often high on the "I get bored after training and need some thrills" list.
There aren't many pastimes that create the same level of anticipation and deliver an adrenaline rush quite like playing top-level football in front of a packed stadium... But online slots, blackjack, roulette, poker and sports betting can get very close!
We've seen many articles about footballers who love gambling that really only just list players who have endorsed slot sites and poker sites, but this list is about those who genuinely loved to gamble at some point during their career.
One of England's greatest-ever goal scorers, Wayne Rooney needs little introduction. The Manchester United and Everton legend hit the tabloid headlines for all the wrong reasons many times over the years, mostly for his antics after having a drink or two.
There are quite a few stories out there about the former Derby County manager's reckless gambling habits. A regular visitor to Manchester235 (just like his once city-wide rival Mario Balotelli), Rooney reportedly lost in excess of £500,000 in just a couple of hours, chasing losses on his favourite casino games, roulette and blackjack.
In addition to this, Rooney reportedly faced an FA investigation in 2006 that looked into accusations that he lost £700,000 in a secret gambling ring comprised of England players.
In more recent times Rooney has opened up about his gambling problems and has advocated for safer and responsible gambling.
Wherever Mario Balotelli goes, chaos and controversy often follows. Over the years Super Mario has gained a reputation for some outlandish antics.
Balotelli's stunts include driving into a women's prison in Italy "for a look around", being sent shopping by his mother to buy essential items for his new home, only to return with a trampoline and a Vespa, setting said home on fire having set off fireworks in his bathroom and becoming the face of a firework safety campaign a week later.
However, the Balotelli moment we'd like to highlight happened In 2011. The then Manchester City star famously hit the headlines after he won a tidy £25,000 playing in Manchester235 Casino.
The story goes that immediately upon leaving the iconic casino he decided to gift the first homeless person he came upon £1,000, effectively altering the course of their life. The story made national and international news and is now part of that storied Mario Balotelli folklore.
Centre forward Ivan Toney carved out his hotshot reputation with lower league sides Northampton Town and Peterborough United before joining Championship side Brentford in 2020, going on to spearhead their promotion to the Premier League that season with a then Championship record of 31 goals.
Never shy or modest about his talents, it all unravelled spectacularly for Toney when, in November 2022, he was charged by the Football Association with 232 (later increased to 262) betting offences relating to bets placed between 2017 and 2021. In May 2023 he was banned from playing for 8 months. Various details emerged, including that on 29 occasions he bet on his own team's games, including betting 13 times on his own team to lose – though he didn't play in any of those games.
During his enforced break from Premier League action it seems that Toney, less than subtly, expressed an interest in furthering his career with either Arsenal or Liverpool despite being under contract to Brentford. At the time of writing it remains to be seen how, and where, Ivan Toney will resurrect his career when his ban ends in January 2024.
Brazilian superstar Neymar enjoyed a glorious, trophy-laden career with Santos, Barcelona, Paris St Germain (scoring over 100 goals for each club – a rare feat in the game) and the Brazilian national team before deciding to wind down his career in the Saudi Pro League. However, a few years earlier he'd already announced retirement / career change plans – when his playing days were over he wanted to become a professional poker player.
So strong is his love for the popular casino game, that he named his dog Poker! Talking about the future career move, Neymar said: "It's true I plan to turn pro. I feel very comfortable playing poker, and think I can play in major tournaments after my football career is over.
"I began playing during the 2014 World Cup, and I have fallen in love with the game. I play poker in an aggressive fashion. My favourite hands are a pair of tens - after my shirt number - and Jack-Five.
"There are similarities between football and poker, in the ways how you read your game and your opponent, and choose when to attack. I used to play it a lot while with Barcelona, and often at PSG."
Veteran journeyman right back Phil Bardsley has played for Manchester United, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Stoke City, Burnley and others in a lengthy career. But it's at Sunderland where he caused quite a stir as a result of his gambling habits.
Bardsley was photographed by his team-mate Matthew Kilgallon lying on the floor of their local casino covered in £50 notes ahead of Sunderland's final game of the 2012/13 Premier League season. As a result his manager, the rarely understated or reserved Italian Paolo Di Canio, suspended him for their final game of the season away to Tottenham Hotspur.
Another footballer not shy of making headlines, Joey Barton was essentially forced into early retirement as a result of his love for betting. The former Manchester City, Newcastle United, QPR and Burnley midfielder was banned from playing football for 18-months in 2017 for placing bets on over 1,200 football matches over the course of a decade.
Like Ivan Toney, many of the matches Barton bet on involved his own club. Unlike Ivan Toney though, some of those games Barton was playing in himself – a big no-no as players in England's top eight tiers are banned from betting on football so as not to encourage match-fixing.
Former Newcastle United, Cardiff City, Sunderland and Ipswich striker Michael Chopra was one of the first Premier League stars to really hit the headlines for his excessive gambling problems back in the mid to late 2000s. The Geordie frontman revealed that he would gamble up to £30,000 in cash with other players on the team bus en-route to matches while he was still a teenager.
Such was the extent of his gambling addiction that in 2011 towards the back-end of his career, his then club Ipswich Town had to give Chopra £250,000 to pay off shady creditors who had shown up at the club's training ground demanding money.
Chopra was later handed a 10-year ban from Horse Racing by the British Horseracing Authority after an investigation found him guilty of "suspicious betting activity" in which Chopra and three others were betting on horses to lose.
There aren't many footballers known for betting extensively on cricket, but former Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann revealed in his 2012 autobiography that he'd fallen into a deep hole of gambling during his career.
The German World Cup finalist revealed that he once lost just shy of £300,000 in a single night betting on South Africa vs Australia in a Test match.
His spread-bets saw him win £2,800 for every run Australia scored over 340, but for every run under he lost the same amount of money. That night Australia collapsed for 237, costing him a total of £288,400.
Looking back, Hamann said: “Every wicket felt like a stab in the heart. By the end of the night I felt like I had been scalped. The next day when I looked at the mess that was me in the mirror I said, ‘Didi, things have got to change."
The one-time Arsenal and England star revealed in 2021 that he had "lost nearly £7 million" gambling over a 35 year period. The mercurial midfielder-inside forward, who also played for Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Walsall in a lengthy career before becoming a football TV pundit, has also battled other addictions such as alcohol and drugs.
And last, but not least, there's the uber-talented Stan Bowles – a 1970s legend with QPR and a host of other clubs. "If Stan could pass a betting shop like he can pass a ball he’d have no trouble at all," said Ernie Tagg, manager at Carlisle United where Bowles played early in his career. While Bowles wound his career down at Brentford between 1982 and 1984 it's said that before some home games he could still be found in a local bookmakers 15 minutes before kick-off.