Sports and gambling are intimate historical bedfellows as the two are joined at the hip and difficult to pull asunder.

Wagering on sport and related activities has been a popular pastime from time immemorial.

In the late 1950’s, anthropologist Clifford Geertz researched and wrote about how betting on cock fighting was an integral part of Balinese culture and traditional values.

In ancient Rome wagering was embedded with chariot racing and gladiator fights.

Hollywood and sports betting

Tens of Hollywood movies have sports betting themes dealing with legal and illegal betting on legal and illegal activities. Some of the movies were inspired by true stories.

Lay the Favourite, Silver Linings Playbook, Bookies, Two For The Money, The Gambler, are some of the movies with a sports betting theme running through them.

The historical accuracy aside, in Django Unchained, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his associates’ wager on Mandingo fights at the slave owner’s lavish Candyland plantation in Mississippi.

The Gladiator, the blockbuster starring Russell Crowe as Maximus is another with a gambling subtext.

Proximo is a merchant who also runs a gladiator training school. After much haggling he bought the slave Maximus for a discounted price as a sweetener in a deal involving some animals.

As gladiators enter the arena to fight, Proximo and fellow trainers talk about wagers and odds and place bets on the scheduled fight to the death.

“Make it 600 sesterces for each decapitation,” says Proximo.

“How many strokes?” asks a fellow trainer.

“Two,” answers Proximo.

“For the great Vibius, one stroke,” responds the trainer.

Done. 400 sesterces for twostrokes,” says Proximo.


In another episode, Proximo is frantically trying to keep pace with Maximus in the tunnel as the latter strides imperiously towards the arena for another fight. Proximo tells Maximus that, “I’ve wagered on you against the Celts. Ignore the others and go for them.” He adds: “If you get all four there’s an extra bonus so don’t be distracted by the Spartans.”

Needless to say Proximo went home a happy man.

So popular with punters that the movie also inspired a Casino slots game called Gladiator Jackpot.

Integrity of sport

The argument about curtailing sports betting has less to do with preserving the integrity of the sport, and more to do with curbing gambling as a social problem.

Proximo, the wily punter and trainer gives Maximus advice and inside information on how to get the better of his opponents.

“Now, the Celts aren’t used to the sun so you have the advantage there…” he says. “And keep them moving, their lungs aren’t strong. Ground the spears as soon as you can and then go for the axe-men.”

An understanding of the conditions in which sporting contests take place can prove key both for the competitors and punters. That’s why for a few thousand dollars crooked cricketers gave bookies inside information about the conditions of the wicket, team selections and even the batting order. Players were also paid to fix matches.

The movie Eight Men Out is actually based on a true story about how in 1919 the Chicago White Sox players threw a World Series match because they were offered more money to lose than they stood to earn if they had won the match.

Eight Men Out

Premier League

Last week it was reported that Premier League clubs had voluntarily agreed to curtail advertising of gambling brands on their match-day shirts ahead of schedule. The withdrawal of gambling sponsorship as collectively agreed by the Premier League comes into effect at the end of the 2025-26 season.

Eight Premier League clubs currently feature gambling brands on the front of their shirts, while the English football second tier, the Championship, is sponsored by bookmakers Sky Bet.

After the deadline clubs may continue to feature gambling brands, but instead of having names such as W88 or Betway emblazoned across the front of the match-day kit the gambling brands will be relegated to less prominent placements such as shirt sleeves or LED advertising boards at the stadia.

The development is the culmination of protracted conversations between the Premier League and government in a bid to deal with gambling addiction as a societal problem, a problem like the one suffered by Axel Freed, a character played by James Caan in the movie The Gambler, who is addicted to betting on basketball.

The Gambler

Swansea manager Russell Martin recently narrated an ordeal reminiscent of the Freed’s in The Gambler. He revealed how gambling addiction caused his father to lose the family home and the impact that had on the whole family.

There is also a whole host of footballers who have lost their career earnings to gambling.

Government has, at least not yet opted not to impose an outright ban on gambling sponsorship.

Would a ban on gambling sponsorship or betting itself solve the problem of gambling addiction or just spawn a raft of illicit betting activities?

Given my career, I’ve been asked many times my opinion about sports and gambling.  For what it’s worth, “Better to regulate than to outlaw.”


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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