Celebrity Gamblers: Michael Phelps

Both as online casino gambling fans and as a culture at large, we are obsessed with celebrities…

… especially when, as is the case with the great swimmer Michael Phelps, they are also the fastest, strongest, and most successful humans to ever walk the earth!

Running parallel to Phelps’ unmatched success in the pool, however, is a passion for gambling that has not always served him well! In fact, it seems that whenever his life veers out of its lane, gambling is involved somehow. Is it possible that the competitive spirit necessary for athletic greatness has taken root elsewhere in his life?

Let’s take a closer look at this Olympic hero’s relationship with gambling, as well as his history at the tables.

Hitting the Jackpot


In many gambling titles, including some of the top online video slots of all time, the biggest bonuses available are represented by golden rings or medals. Players love seeing them appear on the reels, because they usually herald the awarding of a major win.

Yet, in the history of humanity, no one has collected as many real gold medals (or, for that matter, major wins) as Michael Phelps!

He is in fact the most-decorated athlete in Olympic history, with a world record 28 medals. This includes a downright shocking 23 Golds, 8 of which were won in the 2008 Olympics alone! If sport were a progressive jackpot, he would definitely have won it.

As with any truly elite achievement, these athletic feats were accomplished not only by virtue of incredible natural talent, top-tier training, and an ironclad work ethic, but also by a certain… je sais quoi.

Call it a killer instinct.

Call it an indomitable spirit.

Call it a deeply competitive nature.

Call it whatever you like, but there’s no ignoring that Phelps, like other certified GOATs (think on the level of Michael Jordan) has it.

It obviously serves him well in the pool. But what about when he’s on the casino floor?

The Shallow End

Just as Phelps’ incredible athletic prowess began at a young age (age 11, for those scoring at home), so did his love for gambling.

He began playing with regularity when he was still in high school!

Even while he worked tirelessly at his athletic training, the young champion also harbored dreams of becoming a professional poker player, and spent untold hours playing low-stakes games. This was particularly true during his time studying at the University of Michigan.

As a matter of fact, his best friend from this time, Jeff Gross, has indeed become a successful professional poker player! These days, the two often appear together at Phelps’ poker-related events.

The Deep End


That is all well and good, but when he became a man, Phelps put away childish things. These days, when it’s time to visit a casino, he brings visits with some of the biggest names in the game… and what’s more, he brings a full Olympic-sized bankroll.

In 2012, it was reported that he plays a monthly $25,000 cash game. As his endorsements have increased since then, it seems unlikely that he has elected to lower the stakes of his regular games!

Then, back in 2013, he played in the $10,000 buy-in PokerStars Caribbean Adventure tournament. Though he was eliminated on day 2, he showed his mettle, memorably stealing a pot from Aaron Massey while holding AQ to Massey’s AK(s).

Probably the most regrettable of Phelps’ time in public life involved a DUI in 2014, where he was arrested just before 2 a.m. for driving 84-mph (135-kph) in a 45-mph (72-kph) zone. It was later revealed that he had spent the 8 hours before his arrest gambling at his favorite haunt, Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino, had had several drinks, and had a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit. Notably, it was also complicated by the fact that this was Phelps’ second arrest for DUI.

This incident resulted in a 6-month suspension being handed down by USA Swimming.

Though the fallout from this incident was considerable, it wasn’t enough to keep Phelps away from the tabels. In fact, during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, members of the press documented him playing poker on his phone in the minutes leading up to the semi-finals for the 100m Butterfly!

In both 2017 and 2018, he made appearances as a player at the World Series of Poker. Though he didn’t make it past Day 1 in either venture, his presence clearly brought delight to some of the game’s living legends – including the likes of Phil Hellmuth,

Drying Off

While it’s fun and fascinating to pay attention to the gambling habits of the world’s elite class, it does seem from all available information that Phelps’ passion for gambling is well under control.

His interest in the game doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the definition for problem gambling.

What’s more, when he plays or appears at big tournaments these days, he always donates any and all winnings to his charitable organization, the Michael Phelps Foundation.

As such, while it’s clear that Phelps really does belong to that special subset of elite sports juggernauts who seriously enjoy gambling, his relationship to placing big bets is about as healthy as an elite sporting champion worth over $50 million can be.

Samuel Read profile image Samuel Read LCB Reviewer - last updated 2021-08-02
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