Former NHL Player Aaron Ward Details Struggles With Gambling Addiction on Podcast

Former NHL Player Aaron Ward Details Struggles With Gambling Addiction on Podcast article feature image

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The stigma around sports betting has evaporated over the last three years as legal and cultural acceptance of gambling change.

But those who lose big or struggle with addiction still rarely come out of the shadow.

Former NHL defenseman Aaron Ward went on Chris Botta's Hockey Press Pass Podcast to talk about his gambling addiction. Ward discussed his struggles with addiction before, but it's an interesting deep dive into how gambling pervaded his entire life and all his decisions.

"People learn to have empathy, but they also seem to emerge with their own stories," Ward said about why it's important he shares his past so openly. "When you start to have something that's relatable, the struggles… the stories start to come out."

From my life regrets related to my gambling addiction and struggles, to where else that took me over my NHL and broadcast career, to my continued path to recovery. Wasn’t the easiest, but @ChrisBottaNHL and I talked about it all. I hope others can learn from my story.

— Aaron Ward (@NHL_AaronWard) January 11, 2022

Ward said he's been working for six years with a therapist and entered in a behavioral program sponsored by the NHL in 2015. He last played in the NHL in 2010 and became a commentator for TSN shortly after.

Some of the highlights from the podcast:

1. Ward began betting in college at the University of Michigan

Like a lot of bettors, Ward got started in college because other people were doing it. He played three seasons at Michigan in the early 1990s.

He said someone in his dorm was taking bets at the time and he started feeling that excitement after just a few bets.

2. He never bet on the NHL when he played in the league

Ward says he never bet on hockey during his 15-year NHL career. He only bet on college football and pro football.

"I never gambled on hockey and was never even something that came close to something I would consider," Ward said.

3. He'd bet $10K per game on football while in the NHL

Ward didn't say how much total he was wagering on football weekends, but said he'd bet about $10,000 each on a handful of games on Saturdays and Sundays.

"You never recognize in the moment how out of control you are."

Ward made $13,939,500 in the NHL per CapFriendly, though they're missing the final two years of his career.

4. His last bet was Pats-Seahawks in the Super Bowl

He actually says he won his final bet — the Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl in February of 2015 that ended in a Russell Wilson interception at the goal line — but then took a long look in the mirror.

"I was basically resigned to $50,000 on this one play."

5. His focus in hockey lacked during football season

Ward said he'd look up at the marquee around NHL arenas to check football scores in the middle of hockey games. He doesn't know for sure, but thinks his play improved from February to April once football season end.

"I could see all the football lines posted around the arena. And I'm thinking, 'what's my line,' " Ward said. "I think the fact that I can tell you about those moments tells you, 'where was my head?'… I wasn't fully invested.

"That was probably the main theme in my life as a result of gambling. Nothing in my life until I kicked the habit of family until I realized what full investment was."

6. He'd bet football between periods of NHL games

At times, Ward said he bet on football during his NHL games. He never remembers leaving a game to place a bet, but did place wagers during intermission.

"I would've texted someone to make a play, especially if I had lost something and needed to catch up."

7. Gambling was a "theme" of his life

Ward said his whole life was represented by gambling — he gambled with his finances, his family and his career.

His decision-making in all avenues was often impulsive, but since he's gotten help, he no longer feels that way.

8. Details on his assault arrest

Ward was arrested for "assault on a female and interfering with emergency communication" in October of 2015. He says his wife found evidence of his gambling habits and his lies about it on their computer. He took the computer out into the driveway and smashed it. He says there was never a physical altercation.

Ward spent that weekend in jail — and was suspended by TSN — where he was a TV analyst.

He said he was "unhire-able" for a while, did a brief stint back at TSN in 2017 and then never heard back from them.

9. Family and friends were his biggest cost from gambling

Ward is divorced now and said, "Your kids forever will never really trust you."

He said he's in a much better place now, and gambling no longer pervades through the decisions he makes in all aspects of life.

Ward works for SportsMEDIA Technology Corp (SMT), an analytics firm in Raleigh, N.C., where he lives and does some media work.

10. Bob McKenzie called him once a week for 2.5 years

McKenzie, a longtime TSN analyst and news-breaker (kind of like the Canadian Adam Schefter for non-hockey fans), became a friend and supporter of Ward following the 2015 arrest.

Ward said McKenzie called him every Wednesday for almost 2.5 years as he worked through his gambling problems.

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