If you have awesome physical and mental talents, you can make big bucks as an athlete. Or, if you get bit by the gambling bug, you can likely lose big bucks as a sports bettor.

But if you want to do both, you have a problem. Professional sports leagues frown upon their players betting – whether on themselves or others.

Of course, there is good reason for this: If you are a pro athlete who can help decide the outcome of a game and you become indebted to a bookie, there is a chance that you will compromise your play for the sake of that bookie or his compatriots being able to win a big bet. That justifies gambling being verboten for pros.

In other words, if the bet is in, the athlete is out.

Here are three players and one referee who should have known better but could not resist the siren-call of sports betting – and they paid the price, usually in more ways than one.


News broke in June that Isaiah Rogers, an up-and-coming cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts, took heat for allegedly placing some 100 bets – including one that involved the Colts, according to ESPN.

He started in nine games in 2022, had a career average of 27 yards returned on kicks and will no longer play for the Colts.

As per ESPN, he has been waived. Puzzlingly, his betting was relatively small – usually no more than $50 per game – though he is said to have wagered $1,000 on an over/under rushing bet for an Indianapolis player.

Since he can probably use the money right now, it’s a good thing that he is said to have won the over/under.


During his playing days, Pete Rose was known as Charley Hustle. These days the only thing that the disgraced major league baseball player seems to be hustling is autographs at various signing events.

He would have been a Baseball Hall of Fame shoo-in had he not been caught betting on Cincinnati Reds baseball games during his time as a player and manager for the team.

Unrepentant after things unraveled in 1989, Rose tried to make the case that there was nothing damaging about his penchant for wagering. “I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team,” he told ESPN Radio. “I did everything in my power, every night, to win that game.”

As one who reportedly bet some $10,000 per night (when he should have been betting zero), Rose was a perfect person to place the first legal bet at Ohio’s Hard Rock Casino.

Speaking like a truly reckless gambler, he laid down his money and announced, “I don’t know a damned thing about odds. Go Reds! Go Bengals!”

To that, we can only say, “Go Pete Rose!”


Calvin Ridley’s NFL career was shaky before he got busted for gambling. During the 2021 season, he played four games for the Atlanta Falcons prior to taking a hiatus amid reported mental-health issues.

In March of 2022, the NFL made clear that Ridley would be suspended for the season due to making wagers on NFL games.

Among the contests he bet on: Those played by the Falcons. What drove him to make the bets that could have tanked his career? Ridley wrote in The Athletic that it all went down when he was out on psychiatric leave.

Bored and depressed, he deposited $1,500 into an online sports betting account, made a series of wagers and put money down on Atlanta. “I wasn’t trying to cheat the game,” he reported to the publication, sounding a little Rose-like. “I was just doing it to root on my boys, basically.”

These days, he’s been accepted again by the NFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Considering his present, post-gambling situation, he wrote, “I feel stronger than I ever felt – mentally and physically. On the field, I’m flying.” 


You would think that an NBA referee would be a handy accomplice if you were in the business of fixing basketball games – and you would probably be right.

But, according to what former NBA official Tim Donaghy said, he did not need to fix game to get in hot water and to win wagers. All he had to do was bet on games that he was officiating in a totally above-board manner.

This line of reasoning runs through a Netflix documentary about Donaghy: Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul.

As noted in court documents and in the doc, he acknowledged betting on the games – Donaghy was caught through an FBI investigation – and entered a guilty plea to committing wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit gambling information.

Donaghy maintained, however, that he found his edge simply by knowing how referees working the game would operate.

Grudges and biases, according to Donaghy, contribute to refs leaning one way or the other in terms of which teams they favor or oppose.

Donaghy, who ESPN characterized as a “rogue, gambling-addicted ref,” insisted that he won games by capitalizing on what he knew about his colleagues.

He was sentenced to 15 months in prison and inspired disbelief from FBI investigator Phil Scala. “All those gray area decisions you have to make, Tim?” he said to journalist Scott Eden, as if conversing with the ref.

“Because you’re betting on the game, your judgment is off – and you threw the game.”

Michael Kaplan is a journalist based in New York City. He has written extensively on gambling for publications such as Wired, Playboy, Cigar Aficionado, New York Post and New York Times.

He is the author of four books including Aces and Kings: Inside Stories and Million-Dollar Strategies from Poker’s Greatest Players. He’s been known to do a bit of gambling when the timing seems right.