There’s something about sports stars and gambling, an undeniable overlap. Just watch the documentary on Michael Jordan and the Bulls on Netflix to get an idea of how far it can go.
Perhaps it’s the competitive aspect of it; the arena isn’t enough and players need another outlet. Or the R&R gambling offers, just a fun way to pass time at a hotel during away games. It probably also helps that the modern athlete makes a whole ton of money.
Hockey players in particular are notorious for their love of games of chance, from bench warmers to All-Stars and MVPs. Many are from the European cohort of players, where gambling is legal and commonplace. Here are the biggest names in hockey who love a wager.
Show Me Your Poker Face: Roberto Luongo
There’s something about goaltenders, a little eccentric, perhaps unorthodox. Roberto Luongo is no different. He’s a massive poker player, often found hanging out at World Series of Poker events in Vegas.
The big props moment for Luongo: he donates his winnings to charity. He’s given thousands of dollars to many charities throughout the years, reflecting his love of the game, but not necessarily of the cash winnings.
He’s a pretty good player, too. In 2012, for example, he finished 634th in the 43rd World Series of Poker. That doesn’t sound very high to some, but it’s a ridiculously good result. Remember, this is where the best of the best play, with over 6,000 top players from around the globe taking part.
Horses and Slots: Wayne Gretzky
The Great One recently partnered with Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers captain, to run a series of commercials for BetMGM. He’s now a brand ambassador, a logical step for him to ‘graduate’ into considering his known penchant for gambling.
Wayne is more of a self-confessed Vegas boy, admitting that he only tends to gamble in land-based casinos, enjoying traditional table games as well as video slots. But if you want to join a table without having to get out of your pajamas, there are always online slots you can opt for instead.
In fact, Gretzky has already served as an inspiration for online video slots, with his likeness being used in several titles. Some are not too transparent about the association; presumably to avoid paying a licensing fee! Even today, the most popular slots are associated with Gretzky, signifying his impact on hockey and popular culture.
The White Tornado has also owned several thoroughbred racehorses in his time. One of his more well-known acquisitions is Golden Pheasant, which won a wide range of races. Co-owned by Gretzky and Bruce McNall, the horse won over $1 million in prize money. Not a bad investment, eh?
Double Trouble: Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Swedish twins, who were both drafted into the NHL at 18, enjoyed long careers, spending 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. They’re proper identical twins, too, with fans and colleagues alike often unable to tell them apart.
They were close on the ice, and they’re also keen gamblers off it. For example, they took the initiative to spearhead the annual Dice and Ice casino nights, charity events designed to raise money for places like children’s hospitals and daycare centers.
The events featured players working tables as dealers, with cool prizes for attendees (e.g. a practice session with the Sedin twins!). In all, the events often raised well into the seven figures.
The twins are also known for their own smaller-scale charity casino events, putting together a range of activities to raise money for good causes. These events highlight the positive effect of table games; it’s not all about risk-taking or trying to make a quick buck.
Gamble Aware: Jaromir Jagr
Our final entry on the list is Jaromir Jagr, once the highest-paid player in the NHL. His story is a little more sobering than our other entries, with the player admitting his mistake of losing over $500,000 on gambling.
During the late 1990s, the former Czech international was a fixture at places like the Vegas MGM Grand and the Bally’s line of casinos. He was also known to place regular $20,000 bets on football games.
The Jagr story also highlights just how important it is to be gamble aware, as they say. There’s nothing wrong with gambling, it’s a fun and exciting thing to do. But of course, the potential to lose hard-earned cash is always there.
Our take-home advice is to try and be aware of time and how much money you’re putting in. Don’t think of gambling as a way to make money, but as entertainment. Set a limit before you start your wagers and stick to it. Never chase your losses, that’s the golden rule.