- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2006

What do you suppose the next move is for John Daly? After “The Daly Planet” has completed its orbit, will he start filming, “Honey, I Shrunk the Bank Account”?

In his latest moneymaking scheme — an autobiography titled, “John Daly: My Life In and Out of the Rough” — Long John estimates he’s gambled away $50 million to $60 million in the last decade or so. Indeed, after finishing second to Tiger Woods in a World Golf Championship last year — and earning $750,000 — he headed straight to Las Vegas, he says, and blew $1.65 million in five hours, most of it deposited in $5,000 slot machines.

(Good thing he didn’t win the tournament. He would have blown even more.)

The image of Daly feeding the $5,000 slots is one I can’t get out of my head. After all, when Arnold Palmer won his first PGA Tour event about a half-century ago, he took home a check for $2,400. That’s how far professional golf has come, folks — thanks, in large part, to Arnie. We’ve gone from $2,400 first prizes to $5,000 slots.

Of course, knowing John as we do, none of this — except maybe the dollar amount — should come as any great surprise. The man has almost as many addictions, it seems, as clubs in his bag (14). This is the guy, let’s not forget, who swore off alcohol for a while … only to become hooked on Peanut M&Ms.;

It would be easier to read him the riot act if he weren’t so darn likeable. With that doughy face and kid-like smile, he looks like one of “The Little Rascals” — 40 years later. Wheezer, maybe. But there’s a weariness in those eyes that wasn’t there before, the byproduct of hard living, dubious choices and apparently irresistible urges. In fact, he probably has more mileage on him at 40 than most players on the Champions Tour. (Fact or Fiction? Hale Irwin will outlive John Daly.)

This seems to be Gamblers Anonymous Week in sports, because not long after Daly’s revelations came out Wednesday, Charles Barkley admitted to having similar issues — though not nearly the losses. Barkley told ESPN he has frittered away “probably $10 million” at the casinos, calling it “a stupid habit that I’ve got to get under control.”

Later, during halftime of the Pistons-Bucks game on TNT, he questioned John’s $50 million to $60 million figure, saying, “If he’s lost $60 million, he’d have to have made $200 million. And I don’t think he has made $200 million in his career. I do believe that John has lost $20 million.”

Sir Charles might be right. John, ever the kidder, might have included bar tabs and valet parking in that $50 million to $60 million total. No matter what it was, though — $20 million, $50 million, $60 million — it’s a ton of dough. We’re not talking about $5 Nassaus here.

And Barkley’s $10 million is a tidy sum, too. Heck, that’s more than Michael Jordan dropped playing H-O-R-S-E with Rip Hamilton.

It’s a bit unnerving to learn the extent of this wagering, especially so soon after the Rick Tocchet/Janet Gretzky/gambling ring thing in the NHL. I mean, in the aforementioned World Golf Championship, Daly lost a playoff to Woods when he three-putted from 15 feet. Imagine if a player did something like that intentionally to clear a gambling debt. Imagine if the player owed millions to somebody who had a big bet down on Tiger. I’m not accusing anybody of anything, I’m just raising the possibility.

People are always saying professional athletes would never fix a game nowadays because they’re already stinking rich. There just isn’t the financial need, the logic goes. But what if a player dropped $50 million in Vegas — or even $10 million? Might that not change the picture? And Daly and Barkley have shown us it’s quite possible.

No less alarming is their intention to keep bellying up to the gaming tables. Just as John continues to swill beer after swearing off Jack Daniels, he plans to start out at the less expensive slots now and set a limit, a “walkout loss number,” on his wagering. When he reaches it, he’ll jump into his mobile home and drive away.

As for Charles, “I’m going to continue gambling,” he says. “I like to gamble. It’s really nobody’s business, because it’s my own money. I earned it. … But I realize I’ve got to gamble for less.”

Neither sounds like a very good bet to curb his casino ways. The odds would be much better if they could find another hobby — like Sudoku or Fantasy Football.

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