Bad boy golfer
John Daly, the latest in a series of problem gamblers with a book to promote,
says he lost as much as $60 million gambling. In his memoir, My Life in &
out of the Rough, published on Monday (it got the ritual athlete-author profile
on 60 Minutes the night before), Daly outlines the story of serial stupidity
familiar to anybody with change in his pocket and riches in his eyes. Example:
Once, after finishing second to Tiger Woods in a tournament in San Francisco,
he took the $750,000 check and, determined to turn it into real dough, drove to
Las Vegas and lost $1.65 million in less than five hours, cranking a $5,000
slot machine till the gears gave way.
several questions: Did he present a giant-sized novelty check at the cashier's
cage? Who was the host who signed off on the $900,000 marker on this reliable
character? And, finally--$60 million? A guy who's made less than $9 million on
the Tour somehow (even if he did win $25 million gambling as he claims) lost
$60 million? We're aware of lines of credit (and even endorser bailouts),
only thing truly unusual about Daly's story is the arithmetic. Charles Barkley
heard about Daly's book and tried to deal himself in on the confessional action
last week by saying he's lost about $10 million, mostly at blackjack (but he
never bets on basketball). Of course, with Sir Barkley, it's not really a
problem. "Because," he explained, "I can afford to gamble."
necessarily been as forthright or as well bankrolled, but they've certainly
been as unlucky. Oddly, a lot of them have been NHL players, suggesting that
hockey is little more than a casino on ice, or that the players are simply not
well schooled in probability. Last month Flames forward Darren McCarty revealed
in bankruptcy papers that he'd gotten himself in the gambling ringer for
$185,000. In 2003 reports surfaced that then Capitals winger Jaromir Jagr once
owed about a half million to an online gambling site; a year later it slipped
out that the Flyers' Jeremy Roenick had spent tens of thousands on betting
touts alone. And the sport's biggest headline this season: Former player Rick
Tocchet, an assistant to Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, allegedly ran a sports
been a problem, going back to the Black Sox, but lately players who hardly seem
as disreputable as Pete Rose have revealed the dark side of their recreation.
How about Michael Jordan, who (on 60 Minutes, before publication of his little
memoir last year) admitted, "I've gotten myself into situations where I
would not walk away, and I've pushed the envelope"? Jordan was talking
generally about such things as his reported taste for high-stakes shooting
contests, during which he kept his teammates waiting on the bus until he broke
even on the court; or all-night binges at Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut
during the Wizards' preseason, when he turned a $500,000 loss into a $600,000
win; or golf outings where he had to negotiate $300,000 settlements.
once said that his son didn't have "a gambling problem, he has a
competition problem." It might be more than that, at least for Daly, who
sounds a lot like what gambling experts call an escape bettor: Looking for
distraction from life's other troubles, escapists prefer mindless games (slots,
say) that lull them into a trancelike state. But all athletes ought to be at
least a little vulnerable to risk-reward schemes, since that's essentially how
they make their bread to begin with. Every player, in every sport, is
conditioned to taking short odds. A Hall of Fame hitter must be willing to
suffer humiliation in two of every three at bats. The best NBA sharpshooter
doesn't even hit half his shots. Tiger Woods doesn't make every eight-foot
putt, and John Daly definitely doesn't.
A disposition to
suffer through loss does not transfer so well to the casino, where the ability
to affect outcomes is almost completely illusory. Athletes' talents are
incidental to blackjack, the Super Bowl spread, the line on the Final Four.
(And, for sure, John, the pull of a handle.) But some simply can't understand
how their will to win, on its own, means so little in the poker room. Keith
Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says the
high incidence of problem gambling among athletes is quite predictable.
"They believe that they can make their own luck and have the skills to
succeed where others don't." Well, why not? Haven't they always?
Both Daly and
Barkley have announced plans to scale down their gambling. Daly says he's going
to start at the $25 slots now and, if he wins, take it to the blackjack table
and maybe get his $60 million back: "Well, that's my plan." Barkley
intends to scale back from $20,000 a hand, maybe to $1,000 a hand. But it won't
be easy. As Barkley said, "It's a stupid, bad habit, a waste of money. But
I love it."
? Get a fresh
version of Scorecard every weekday online at SI.com/scorecard.