Former NHL player and current Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet has been served with a criminal complaint regarding charges of alleged involvement in a gambling ring.
An oddsmaker with Bowmans.com, Randle the Handle, stated that although Tocchet took over as head coach in December while Wayne Gretzky tended to his ailing mother, the odds would “not be affected at all.” He also said that although the allegations are serious, they are not an indictment.
“Unless you’re dealing with a major injury, the lines in hockey don’t move very much," Randle said. "The players will be aware of [Tocchet’s] situation, but it won’t affect the games.”
An official press release from the New Jersey State Police said Tocchet has been charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy. He is one of three people to be charged in this investigation, dubbed “Operation Slap Shot.” The investigation began in late October 2005 when members of the New Jersey State Police Organized Crime Bureau uncovered information indicating that Trooper James J. Harney, an eight-year veteran of the force, was a partner in the bookmaking ring.
As the investigation unfolded, it expanded to include Tocchet, a former Philadelphia Flyer and current Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach. Tocchet was identified as Harney`s alleged partner and financier and he now has two weeks to return to New Jersey to answer the charges.
Over a 40-day period the investigation into the New Jersey-based ring uncovered the processing of more than 1,000 wagers exceeding $1.7 million on professional and collegiate sports, mostly football and baseball. About a dozen current NHL players placed wagers as well as a Hollywood movie star, none of whom were identified by officials.
As the rumor mill churned however, names were mentioned including current L.A. Kings forward Jeremy Roenick who was a teammate of Tocchet’s in Phoenix (1997-2000) and Philadelphia (2001-02). Boston Bruins center Travis Green is another name associated with the developing case.
The most unlikely name to have come out of this scandal is that of Janet Jones, a Hollywood actress and the wife of Phoenix head coach Wayne Gretzky. Jones allegedly placed bets with the gambling ring. When Gretzky was asked at a post-game conference Tuesday whether or not she placed bets for him, Gretzky said “absolutely not.”
A message left with Coyotes’ media relations has yet to be returned.
“Personally I don`t find this news overly shocking, nor do I believe that it will come as a huge surprise to the team," said Covers Expert Shawn Torrey. "As far as having an effect on the club`s performance, I don`t think it will make any difference.
"These guys are athletes, but are also human and gambling is not exactly an uncommon trait amongst athletes. Now, if he was betting on his own team and such that`s a different story entirely.”
At commissioner Gary Bettman’s request, Tocchet did not take part in Tuesday night’s game and will be facing an “indefinite suspension” until the matter is resolved. He is to meet with Bettman Wednesday to discuss the issue face to face.
According to NHL policy, players are allowed to gamble legally, as long as they don’t wager on hockey. The issue lingering here is that although no information has surfaced regarding bets placed on hockey, allegedly involved NHL players or management could have divulged information pertaining to injuries or personal matters – in short any insider information that could prove useful to gamblers.
The investigation has now concluded what was known as its “covert” phase and has now moved to its “overt” phase, where detailed financial information, including business records and tax returns will be scrutinized. Tocchet could face additional charges should more information come to light. The investigation is now extending its scope to five more cities including Boston, Phoenix and St. Paul, Minn.
The issue with illegal gambling as opposed to legal gambling is that winnings are not taxed, and further evidence could lead to tax evasion charges for other parties involved. Tocchet is facing the most serious charges and if proven guilty, could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison.
The ring allegedly has ties to the Bruno-Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey.
The NHL and NHLPA will have a growing interest in this story as it develops and they are waiting to hear if any names of the players involved are officially released.
This would not be the first time NHLers have been tied to gambling. Jeremy Roenick, Jaromir Jagr and a questionable incident in 1996 involving Eric Lindros and a mob boss will certainly all resurface in light of the charges.
But the struggling Coyotes, who are trying to stay above .500, won’t have time to dwell on this unfortunate incident, which came so soon after they lost their top scorer Ladislav Nagy to a knee injury.
Oddsmakers have the Coyotes listed as a +3000 longshot to win the 2006 Stanley Cup.
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