21 or bust – the lure of blackjack to football stars

Most people see blackjack for exactly what it is – a card game that is easy to learn, quick to play but has enough strategic nuances to keep serious players interested and allow them to build a solid strategy. For a few, however, it can turn into a genuine obsession, and as the headlines over recent years have demonstrated there are more than a few footballers who have fallen under its spell, with sometimes devastating results.

Footballers and the lure of the casino

What is it with footballers and gambling? If it was just the bright lights and glamour of the casino, that would be one thing, but many prefer to play real blackjack online via their smartphones. Perhaps it is the combination of time on their hands and money to burn that is such a dangerous combination – after all, who is to say what we might do with a seven figure salary, a smartphone and yet another long and boring journey on the team bus ahead of us?

Here are some of the most high-profile blackjack players in top flight football, and their stories.

Michael Chopra

The team bus was exactly where it all began for the forward who has played for so many teams in his 17-year career that his CV must be several pages long. As a 17-year old at Newcastle, he would play with a real pack of cards and for real money with team mates, sometimes betting up to £30,000 on a single journey.

Ten years later, during his stint at Ipswich, he had moved onto the online version, and the sums got even higher. Threatened by loan sharks, his father sold his house to try to help him pay off his debts, and he estimated he had lost around £2 million.

David Bentley

The former Arsenal midfielder’s gambling career started at the age of 14, visiting betting shops with his friends and even his father to put bets on horses, dogs and anything else. With the advent of online bookmakers and casinos, the wagers increased, as did the types of gambles he was making, as he increasingly started to play card games like poker and blackjack.

For Bentley, there is a happy ending to the story. His long term girlfriend teamed up with his agent to help him beat his demons, and although he retired from football four years ago at the age of 29, he has now launched a successful career as a restauranteur in Marbella. And today, he still enjoys a game of blackjack, but just for fun.

David Beckham

Becks the card player? Surely not! Beckham is certainly a regular sight in some of the top Vegas casinos, although this might have as much to do with his business tie ins as a brand ambassador for the Las Vegas Sands resort.

Papiss Cissé

Mid way through his five-year stint at Newcastle, the Senegal striker looked set to cause something of a diplomatic incident when he took exception to the team’s new sponsor, a pay-day loan company, and refused to wear the new team shirt bearing their name. The reason stemmed, he said, from his devout religious views that prohibit him as a Muslim from deriving benefit from money lending activities.

Imagine, then the raised eyebrows that ensued when the player was seen and photographed during the height of the controversy sitting in Aspers Casino enjoying a game of blackjack.

Whether the picture, which did the rounds on social media, had anything to do with his decision to back down and take to the field in the new team shirt is not clear, but nothing more was said, and harmony was soon restored.