NRL Star Owen Craigie Spent $2 Million Gambling

Former Newcastle Knights star Owen Craigie opened up about his gambling addiction, which cost him at least $2 million.

Former National Rugby League (NRL) star Owen Craigie admitted in the press that he suffered from gambling addiction. Craigie revealed he spent at least $2 million on pokies and horse racing while addicted. However, the former Newcastle Knights man is fully recovered despite hitting rock bottom and suffering from suicidal thoughts.

Craigie is the eldest of seven children and he grew up in Tingha, a small town west of Coffs Harbour. His natural rugby talent shone through and he made the Australian Schoolboys team on three consecutive years between 1994 and 1996. The Newcastle Knights saw his obvious skill and signed him to a professional contract when Craigie was 17-years-old. It was a dream come true for Craigie. He bought his first house shortly after signing his contract.

“I was on an astronomical amount of money and still in high school. I lived every kid’s dream, buying houses and cars, and winning premierships in the NRL.”

Craigie played 76 games for Newcastle and scored 32 tries, mostly as a powerful centre. However, his career never hit the same dizzy heights of when he made his debut. Injuries took their toll and he only managed 23 games in two seasons for the Wests Tigers. South Sydney took a punt on him but his fitness issue persisted. Craigie finished his career in the English Super League with the Widnes Vikings. However, a serious knee injury saw him call time on his playing career.

Craigie Admits a Massive Gambling Problem

Pundits and rugby experts predicted an international career for Craigie but his off-the-field problems prevented that. He admitted to 7News the extent of his addiction.

“Away from rugby, I was living on my own, had time on my hands, and I’d just go and spend money on ridiculous things that I didn’t need or want. One I got onto the pokies and the horses, it took its toll on me. I was in full-mode addiction.”

Craigie revealed his party lifestyle resulted in him putting on weight and turning up late for training. He gambled until the early hours of the morning, mixing it with drinking and partying.

“It’ll take its toll on anyone; the human body can only put up with so much. Everyone else is eating right and sleeping right. I was doing the total opposite.”

Craigie retired at 26 and his life fell apart. He turned to drinking and drugs after his marriage failed, and he was broke after spending an estimated $2 million through pokies.

Overcoming His Addiction But Falling Back Again

The popular former player knew something had to change and change quickly because he considered ending his life. Craigie overcame his addiction and became a gambling counsellor in the mid-2010s. However, his sister died in 2019, aged only 31, and he fell back into his old ways.

Craigie contacted Matthew Johns, a former Newcastle teammate. He credits Johns with saving his life. Johns helped Craigie go back to rehab and eventually to a psychiatric ward. Thankfully, the former NRL star made a full recovery and more.

He set up the Big OC Foundation, a charity helping those with addictions, mental health issues, and suicidal ideation. Craigie also founded the Chase the Energy initiative, improving mental health through exercise.

The now recovered sporting hero is philosophical about his past and future.

“All the things that happened in my life taught me the greatest lessons. It made me the person I am today. If I can overcome those things and survive today, and get to wake up everyday and spend time with my children, exercise and walk, have a coffee, be grateful for the little things, anyone can do it. And creating a legacy to help inspire other people, which is the greatest gift of all.”