Gambling Addiction Is Rising Among Professional Athletes, Says Mental Health Charity

  • About 50% of professional athletes Sporting Chance sees have a gambling problem
  • Gambling is now a greater issue among athletes than drugs or alcohol addiction
  • Sporting Chance sees a worrying relationship between sports and the gambling industry
  • 75% of Premier League teams currently have a betting sponsor or partner
soccer player holding money
According to mental health charity Sporting Chance, gambling addiction among professional athletes is a rapidly growing issue. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A growing concern

Gambling addiction in professional athletes is a rising concern, according to UK-based Sporting Chance charity.

About half of the clients that make use of the charity’s clinic facility struggle with gambling-related issues, surpassing drug or alcohol addiction. Of those people with gambling problems, 60% currently participate in professional sports. 

it seems to be the biggest issue now, more than alcohol”

Former Arsenal and England national soccer team captain Tony Adams is the founder of Sporting Chance, whose clinic provides support and treatment for current and retired athletes with addictions. Adams says he himself had his own addiction issues in the past. Speaking about the rising cases of problem gambling, he said: “Gambling has been an issue even stretching back to my playing days. But it seems to be the biggest issue now, more than alcohol.”

Sporting Chance chief executive Colin Bland believes that meaningful reform is necessary to protect people against further harm. Bland says that the relationship between gambling and sports is now at a “pivotal point”.

Sporting Chance launched its GATE (Gambling, Awareness, Treatment and Education) program in the spring to better educate sports clubs and organizations about gambling issues.

A worrying relationship

Betting advertising is highly popular across many major sports today. In the English Premier League, 75% of the teams have betting partners or sponsors; this figure is 87% in the second-tier Championship. While the clubs are complying with regulations, there are concerns about the influence of such advertising on young and vulnerable people, as well as players.

Bland wrote a public letter in which he labels gambling addiction as a “serious public health issue”. He did acknowledge that conversations are beginning within sporting bodies concerning their relationship with gambling. 

The open letter makes a number of suggestions about reining in gambling’s influence in sports. One proposal is that responsible gambling campaigns should contribute funding toward the education and treatment of individuals who participate in their respective sports. 

The letter acknowledges the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it recommends that every sport make a long-term plan to reduce and replace associations with the gambling industry.

With the ongoing pandemic, the Sporting Clinic has concerns about the mental health and well-being of athletes. In an effort to quickly identify any worrying trends, the UK Gambling Commission is keeping a close eye on gambling behavior in the region.

High-profile cases

There have been numerous high-profile cases within the world of soccer and other sports in recent years concerning gambling addiction. Some of the notable names to talk about their gambling addiction include legendary former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and ex-Arsenal maestro Paul Merson.

he is fighting a “constant battle”

A number of big-name players in the sport received bans for gambling-related activity in recent seasons. Joey Barton got hit with an 18-month ban from the English Football Association in April 2017 for breaking betting rules. Barton admitted that he was a gambling addict and that he was fighting a “constant battle”.

Speaking about the prevalence of gambling among soccer players, Barton said: “I think if they found out everyone who has been betting and cracked down on it, you’d have half the league out.”