Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Tocchet on the Docket

Former NHL player and current Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet (career stats here) will be arraigned in Burlington County, New Jersey, on charges that he financed a large-scale gambling operation.  Two other defendants, including a New Jersey state trooper, will also be  arraigned in the next week to ten days, after which a grand jury will consider evidence and determine whether to move forward with charges.  The state investigation, dubbed "Operation Slap Shot" by someone with an affinity for the Paul Newman movie, is also looking into potential ties between the gambling and organized crime families in the Philadelphia-South Jersey area.

Tocchet played in the NHL for six teams (including the Flyers twice) during his 18-year career, and is among the league's best known players.  The gambling involved over 1,000 wagers of over $1.7 million, so it is much more than an NCAA or Super Bowl pool.  In addition to Tocchet, others whose names have come up in the investigation include Wayne Gretzky's wife, actress Janet Jones (see Wall Street Journal Law Blog here on favorite Jones movies), and active NHL players who placed bets through Tocchet's operation. 

An ESPN.Com story (here) notes that while the gambling appears to have involved only sports other than hockey, investigators are still looking at whether at least some wagers were placed on NHL games.  In larger-scale gambling, it would not be surprising that those with an intimate knowledge of a sport would be tempted to place bets to take advantage of their insider knowledge and ability to judge the teams.  The Pete Rose case involving gambling on major league baseball began in much the same way, with denials of any betting on baseball until, to no one's great surprise, Rose finally admitted to betting on baseball games, although he claims never against his own team.  With possible organized crime involvement in the gambling, one would not be taken aback to learn that NHL games were the subject of bets.  The issue then becomes whether information was passed by players, even innocently, to bettors, or worse, whether the outcome of any games were affected.  For the NHL, the case promises to provide the type of negative publicity that no sports league wants. (ph -- Sorry, I couldn't resist the title)

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