Art Schlichter seemed to have it all figured out. The two-time All-Big Ten first-team QB and fourth overall pick in the NFL draft was one of the biggest names in college football in the late-1970’s.
While his NFL career didn’t live up to the hype, he did move onto the Arena Football League, where he won an AFL MVP award and a championship.
But while football seems to be a common theme throughout his life, there is something else that dominated his formative years, and eventually destroyed his career. That something is gambling.
Art Schlichter’s deeply rooted problem gambling history
Schlichter was born and raised in Bloomington, Ohio, and played football and basketball at Miami Trace High School. He never lost a game in high school while starting at QB, with his only blemish being a single tie.
While high school seems like an odd place to start this story, it’s unfortunately where it all begins. You see, Schlichter got involved with gambling at a very young age. His habit began with just occasional visits to the local race track, Scioto Downs.
It’s rumored that one of Schlichter’s first bets was a big winner, so from then on, he was hooked. He continued to frequent the racetrack throughout high school, and it always remained his favorite track.
His visits to Sciota continued throughout college, where he was a four-year quarterback at Ohio State University. Reports often surfaced of Schlichter frequenting the race track with various prominent Ohio gamblers. But the NCAA and Columbus police never investigated things further. They felt they did not have enough evidence.
Schlichter made it out of college with a clean record and was drafted fourth overall by the Indianapolis Colts. While the upgrade to the big leagues might have been enough for the layman to stop their gambling, Schlichter was no layman.
Schlichter was already battling his addiction before he even knew it himself.
Schlichter’s addiction grows
After just a few months of being in the NFL, Schlichter had allegedly already blown his $350,000 signing bonus by mid-season. His first real problems came in 1982-83, when his bookies threatened to expose his problems to the NFL if he did not pay out his bets.
Scared, Schlichter went to the FBI and helped them get the bookies arrested on federal charges. The NFL, in turn, suspended Schlichter indefinitely. The league later reduced that punishment to 13 months because Schlichter was reportedly getting help.
Schlichter was welcomed back to the Colts in 1984, but released after week 5 due to reports surfacing of his continued gambling. Schlichter later admitted he gambled throughout his entire suspension and did not ever seek help.
This would be his last significant stint in the NFL. He was later signed by the Buffalo Bills in 1986, but was quickly released once the USFL collapsed and the Bills signed Jim Kelly.
The Cincinnati Bengals intended to sign him to become Boomer Esiason’s backup in 1987. But an arrest earlier in the year barred the signings approval from team executives.
Schlichter’s arrest record
Schlichter’s first notable gambling-related arrest came about when he was involved in a multi-million dollar sports betting operation. He plead guilty to all charges and was sentenced to probation.
This was the arrest that blocked his signing with the Bengals, which would turn out to be his last chance at an NFL job.
Moving forward, between 1987 and 1992, Schlichter was arrested three times in Ohio for passing a total of $50,000 in bad checks. In 1994, Schlichter was charged with fraud for passing $175,000 in bad checks at Las Vegas casinos.
This came at a time when he was in terrible debt to casinos and bookmakers. This resulted in two years in prison, which was Schlichter’s first real jail sentence. Between 1996 and 2006, Schlichter would serve the equivalent of 10 years in 44 different county jails and federal prisons, all due to gambling-related crimes.
Schlichter’s most recent arrest came in 2011, when he was found guilty of first-degree fraud. He was in connection with the theft of more than $1 million, thanks to a ticket-scandal revolving around Ohio State football games.
Schlichter was given 10 and a half years in prison and was released on June 14, 2021.
How to get help for problem gambling
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. But even outside of March, it’s always important to remember the dangers of problem gambling. If you or anyone you know needs help, please call 1-800-GAMBLER.
Ohio residents can call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline available 24/7 at 1-800-589-9966. In addition, the Ohio Casino Control Commission offers additional resources, including local counseling locations.