What Are The Biggest Sports Gambling-Related Scandals In NFL History?

Written By Grant Lucas on December 11, 2019 - Last Updated on March 8, 2022
Calvin Ridley gambling

Don’t worry, Calvin Ridley.

You are not the first professional athlete, or even the first NFL player, to get wrapped up in a gambling-related controversy. Ideally, you’d be the last. But let’s be real; that’s likely not the case.

Take solace, Ridley. Your NFL betting transgression pales in comparison to some of the game’s forefathers.

Though the NFL scrambles to protect the shield and integrity of its games amid expanding legalized sports betting nationwide, at least the league’s history of gambling scandals seems more like a whisper compared with the shouts of other pro leagues. Meanwhile, owners in all of the big-four pro leagues grow more comfortable with sports betting as a revenue stream.

Looking at you, MLB; your past is littered with the 1919 Chicago Black Sox and Pete Rose. And you, too, NBA and referee Tim Donaghy.

Even the NCAA has been more embattled, what with the 1950 CCNY men’s basketball team, the 1978-79 Boston College men’s basketball squad and the 1996 Boston College football team.

That is not to say the NFL is squeaky clean. In fact, the league boasts some incredible betting history.

Recapping the sports betting activity of Calvin Ridley

The Falcons star wideout was suspended indefinitely by the National Football League on March 7, 2022, after it was proved he bet on NFL games during a five-day stretch in November, 2021. Ridley was on the non-football injury list at the time to address mental health concerns.

The bets reportedly occurred in Florida on a legal app, meaning they would have made through Hard Rock Digital, which was up and running at the time.

According to ESPN, Ridley placed three-, five- and eight-legged parlays that included the Falcons. The NFL claims that Ridley did not use inside information on these bets. According to ESPN, the league learned of Ridley’s betting through relationships with the gambling industry. Ridley claimed in a Tweet that he bet $1,500 total and didn’t have a gambling problem and wasn’t projecting remorse, although he admitted he was wrong.

Calvin Ridley gambling

Coincidentally, March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a letter to Ridley:

“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game. This is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official, and anyone else employed in the league. Your actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.

“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction. In your case, I acknowledge and commend you for your promptly reporting for an interview, and for admitting your actions.”

Ridley can apply for reinstatement on Feb. 15, 2023. He’s the first NFL punished for gambling activity since the Arizona Cardinals’ Josh Shaw in 2020.

Recapping the sports betting activity of Josh Shaw

As we prepared to flip the calendar from November to December in 2020 –and while the majority on the planet began decorating for Christmas–the news broke:

“The NFL will suspend Josh Shaw, a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, who has been on injured reserve since August, for the 2020 season.”

Why? The league received a tip that Shaw, “on multiple occasions” during the 2019 season, had bet on NFL games.

Shaw reportedly traveled to Las Vegas with friends from high school earlier this fall.

As reporter Ian Rapoport put it, “Shaw placed sports bets for the first time based on the misinterpreted understanding of the Supreme Court ruling.”

The wager was a three-team parlay that included Shaw’s Cardinals, which he bet against covering the second-half spread against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He lost the wager.

‘Official Casino Partner’ blew the sports betting whistle

The defensive back reportedly gambled at Caesars, which contacted the Nevada Gaming Control Board and then the NFL.

Funnily enough, Shaw was pretty direct with his occupation. In filling out an application for a betting account with Caesars — an official casino partner (not sports betting) of the NFL — Shaw indicated that he was a “professional football player.”

League rules prohibit players from wagering.

In a statement, the NFL noted that it “uncovered no evidence” that Shaw used inside information when placing bets, or that “any game was compromised in any way.” Additionally, the league said there wasn’t any evidence that any teammates, coaches or other players were aware of Shaw’s betting activity.

Shaw was reinstated on March 20, 2021 but has not played in the NFL since.

Shaw was the first reported violation of a major professional league’s gambling policy since the Supreme Court struck down PASPA in 2018.

As noted at the top, though, it is far from the first in NFL history.

1996: Anonymous tip drops dime on rookie QB

Jon Stark was a sought-after quarterback that, at one time, many believed would be a fixture in the NFL. He landed a full-ride at powerhouse Florida State but sat on the sidelines for two years. Then he transferred instead to a Division II program in Illinois.

He shined, however.

In one year at Trinity International, Stark set program records in various categories. Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. pegged Stark as the third-best quarterback in the country.

He didn’t go that high; instead, he was the second-to-last quarterback taken, a seventh-round selection (and last of seven picks) for the newly minted Baltimore Ravens.

Stark, though, would not see the field. By December 1996, he was out of the league.

According to reports, the Ravens received an anonymous tip that Stark was violating league rules by betting on games. The Ravens then alerted the league, which launched an investigation. Stark was suspended with pay. But he never returned to the NFL.

1982: Art of falling apart

Art Schlichter gambling
Ohio State University quarterback Art Schlichter got a victory ride by teammates and fans on Saturday, Nov 19, 1979 in Ann Arbor after 18-15 win over Michigan. The Buckeyes came from behind and scored after blocking a punt in the fourth quarter. (AP Photo/Hillery)

Gambling addiction is no joke. Art Schlichter would undoubtedly be the first to tell you. That is, assuming you got a chance to speak to the former quarterback in federal prison.

Schlichter was the real deal: an undefeated high school starter, a four-year quarterback at Ohio State and the fourth overall pick in the 1982 NFL Draft.

Along with that talent, though, came hefty baggage. Because while Schlichter was establishing himself as a high school star, so, too, was his gambling habit at the local track.

The then-Baltimore Colts took Schlichter fourth overall in 1982. By that season’s midpoint, the rookie had gambled away the entirety of his $350,000 signing bonus. Over that winter and into spring 1983, Schlichter lost an additional $489,000. Rather than paying his bookies, though, he went to the FBI. His testimony helped bring federal charges against them.

As a result, though, the NFL suspended Schlichter, who was reinstated by the 1984 season. He didn’t stick around; the Colts dropped him in ’85 amid fears that he was gambling again.

In the 30 years since then, Schlichter has been in and out of jail. Currently, he’s serving the final few months of a decade-long sentence for stealing millions of dollars to feed his gambling addiction.

1963: Paul and Alex ain’t no saints

Paul Horning gambling
Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung immitates the posture of the Heisman Trophy that he received at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City on Dec. 12, 1956. (AP Photo)

Man alive, what a time to be active for professional football. Leather helmets. No facemasks. No ticky-tack flags. No flags, really. Heck, no penalties.

Also, money exchanging hands all the dang time.

Two names stick out more than others: Green Bay Packers halfback Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras.

As the story goes, Hornung and Karras were betting regulars, wagering up to $500 on NFL games and associating themselves with “known hoodlums,” aka gamblers. Both were suspended indefinitely, which was later lifted after one season.

Hornung, who held the NFL’s single-season points record until LaDainian Tomlinson broke it in 2006, wagered as much as a half-grand on games between 1959 and 1961 (his MVP season), according to former National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle. Karras, an all-league defensive player, placed at least a half-dozen bets ranging between $50 and $100.

(By the way, another five Lions were slapped with fines: $2,000 apiece for taking the Packers to win the 1962 championship.)

Hornung returned for a few more NFL seasons and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. As for Karras? Perhaps you might know him as Mongo (among many other acting credits).

Photo by Associated Press / Don Montague
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sports writer who has covered the high school, collegiate and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield and Oregon State athletics, the Portland Trail Blazers and golf throughout his career.

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