Professional sports athletes and gambling addiction: are sportspeople more vulnerable to problem gambling?

Recent studies on the gambling addiction propensity of professional athletes demonstrate disturbing results, which shed light on the particularly high vulnerability of sports people. The results of most studies on that matter reveal that professional athletes are far more susceptible to gambling addiction than non-athletes and that a considerable part of those who deal with gambling problems are people who are active in professional sports.

Compared to the general population, that is, athletes -irrespective of gender, age, and nationality- have much higher probabilities of developing a gambling addiction. They can be older or younger, wagering with worldwide betting sites or with domestic Romanian bookmakers, they can be men or women, but the thing is that being athletes makes them almost twice as likely to experience problems in gambling.

One of the most recent studies conducted in Belgium illustrated that 30% of professional athletes are involved in gambling and maintain active accounts in bookmakers or online casinos -such as those listed at This means that nearly 1/3 of professional sports people are at least casual bettors. Of these professional athletes who gamble, 10% are prone to developing some kind of gambling addiction. This is definitely a non-negligible percentage and if we consider that it is as much as two times higher than the regular population, we do realize that it is alarming.

From a sports perspective, studies have shown that professional football players, basketball players, and cricketers are the three main groups of active gamblers. In fact, football, basketball, and cricket have three times higher percentages of athletes who gamble compared to other widespread and popular sports.

Although there is no empirical evidence on the reasons why professional athletes are generally more vulnerable to problem gambling, it is widely assumed that they have to do with their idiosyncratic nature and with the fact that they are continuously exposed to gambling and sports betting brands, that have currently made their way to the grand sponsorships of big leagues.

Professional athletes are by their nature very competitive. They like to be involved with anything that can bring them ahead of others, anything that can make them compare their own competencies with those of others, and anything that challenges their capabilities and skills. That’s the nature of athletes, which becomes explicit and evident on the field or the pitch.

But this nature also has spillover effects on other facets of their lives – one such being gambling. In fact, gambling enables professional athletes to have one more “field” where they can compete and fight for an opportunity to stand out. They have this inner need to demonstrate their abilities and be competitive even when performing activities that are primarily entertaining or that are destined to be for fun.

Sometimes it is also the fact that they want to channel their competitive energy into activities that are not the sports themselves, but indirectly related to the sports. Gambling allows them to combine their passion for sports, their own distinctive nature, and the need to diffuse all this energy into one place. Once starting their journey in gambling, professional athletes have greater chances of developing problem gambling behaviors because of their aptness for competition. They devise strategies for beating the house, focus on developing their skills to outperform everyone else, and in doing so, they eventually get hooked on a cycle of continuous betting and gambling.

Besides athletes being competitive by nature, it is also that they are now been greatly exposed to gambling brands constantly. Ever since gambling and sports betting sites have begun to pay billions of dollars in having their brands as official sponsors of sports or leagues, professional athletes have started to get continuously exposed to these brands. More frequent and greater exposure -coupled with the competitive nature of professional athletes as well as their susceptibility to gambling- eventually increases the likelihood of developing a problem gambling condition. That’s also one of the main reasons, many sports leagues, including the English Premier League, have now banned front-of-shirt sponsorship of gambling brands during match days.

Sportspeople have greater chances of gambling addiction than the remaining regular population. This should ring a bell to everyone who is professionally involved with sports so that preventive measures can be taken and responsible gambling can be ensured.

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