February 9th, 2006

Gretzky Caught On Gambling Wiretap

And now the NHL has its “Say it isn’t so” moment. From the Newark Star-Ledger:

State wiretaps in the unfolding NHL betting scandal caught Wayne Gretzky discussing the multimillion-dollar gambling operation run by his friend Rick Tocchet before the ring was dismantled Monday, according to law enforcement sources.

There is no evidence Gretzky made any bets, the sources said, but the secretly recorded phone calls show the hockey hall-of-famer knew about the gambling ring, and investigators are looking into whether he placed any wagers through his wife, Janet Jones.

Jones was among the gamblers who placed more than $1.7 million in wagers in the past six weeks with the ring allegedly run by Tocchet and a New Jersey state trooper. Jones put down $500,000 on games during that period, including $75,000 on last weekend’s Super Bowl, sources said. She even wagered on which team would win the opening coin toss — winning $5,000 with that bet.

Now Wayne looks like a fool and a liar. How he survives this and stays in hockey I just don’t know.

More from Paul Kukla, Mike Boon and The Buzz.

Here’s Steve Ovadia from early this morning, anticipating exactly what was going to happen next.

Folks, this story has gone from being a terrible distraction and transformed into something that could damage the sport permanently. This is like seeing Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron thrown into the dock.

And what are the chances now that the league is going to approve the deal the Penguins are pushing to use revenue from slot machines to pay for a new arena? Say hello to the Houston Penguins.

Sure, the NHL will survive, but it’s going to take a huge hit when it comes to attracting new fans, at least for a while.

UPDATE: Our old friend Skip Oliva counsels caution:

I saw the ESPN report. But until law enforcement stops hiding behind anonymous media links, I don’t give the allegation any credibility. It may well be true, but let’s see some actual evidence first. In my experience, these types of false leaks–and false charges–are often used to coerce pleas. The prosecutors will want to avoid trials at all cost to avoid any public scrutiny of the allegations.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Arizona Republic is reporting that former Gretzky agent and current Coyotes GM Mike Barnett placed a Super Bowl bet with Tocchet.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More details from the AP, including confirmation that Gretzky and Tocchet discussed finding ways to prevent Gretzky’s wife from being implicated in the probe, as well as a statement from Jones that she didn’t make the bets on behalf of her husband.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Barry Melrose, Gretzky’s former head coach in Los Angeles, spoke with Gretzky earlier this evening, and he reportedly said, “The only thing I’m guilty of is protecting my wife.” waiting on postgame press conference which could be interesting.

Also on ESPN: Phoenix Associate Head Coach Barry Smith has said that he knew that Tocchet was making bets on football games. Network will go to Phoenix for a postgame statement from Gretzky.

GRETZKY PRESS CONFERENCE: Only a shortt statement: 1) Staying with the Coyotes. 2)Going to Torino with Team Canada. 3)Never made a bet. After that he said he was too exhausted mentally and physically to answer any questions, and then left.

Good night everybody. I’m wondering what the authorities are going to leak next.

8 Responses to “Gretzky Caught On Gambling Wiretap”

  1. Ben Wright says:

    And the question nobody is asking is… if you’re the Canadian Olympic committee do you still want Gretzky going over to Torino given the information that’s coming out? Will it be more of a distraction if he goes or if he stays home? Nothing says “spirit of the Olympic Games” like big-time gambling.

  2. Ninja says:

    Ben, I think Steve Simmons might be upset you think he is a nobody.

    http://www.torontosun.com/Sports/Hockey/2006/02/09/1433343-sun.html

  3. Ben Wright says:

    I stand corrected. That’s what I get for never, ever, reading the Toronto Sun.

  4. DCThrowback says:

    I can’t believe these fools don’t use the internet like most Americans do when they which to put some action down on a game – or just fly to Vegas. For someone to say, “well, who will take $50K in action”, you can open accounts with numerous books if you wish. The association with noted crime figures will sink their ship more than the gambling itself – what were thinking? Jeez.

    I disagree with Eric’s assessment that the sport will lose “new” fans – most Americans don’t care that you enjoy wagering as long as you don’t do it on your own sport. On the issue of role models, 99% of Americans could care less Michael Jordan is an inveterate gambler who may or may not have asked to leave his sport for 18 months based on his associations with bad characters. They care that on the court he was the best ever.

    Besides, I like Wings tonight -110.

  5. Ninja says:

    Just playin’, Ben.

    Besides, I don’t read it either. I let this place read it for me. It is a great daily resource, and I’d recommend it even if you don’t like the Leafs.

    p.s. I’m not affiliated with the link in any way.

  6. Lawrence says:

    I pretty much agree with DCThrowback. However, Gretzky has been one of the few sports superstars that can reasonably be said I idolize. If he’s “dirty”, and I’m a long way from conceding that at this point, I’ll be shaken to the core.

  7. Lawrence says:

    P.S. But I’ll still watch hockey, of course.

  8. Peter Puck says:

    Did college basketball’s popularity go down because of the ASU point shaving scandal? No. Did college football take hit when Wilbon’s “esteemed, distinguished” Northwestern had players fumbling at the goal line against Iowa on purpose? No. What makes anyone think that those of us who actually watch hockey are going to stop because of this?

    This is the most publicity the NHL has had in a long time. Bettman will milk the “Will they take down Gretzky?” issue for all he can if the NBC ratings suddenly go up. The worst part of this may be that the league will go black for the Olympics starting Sunday…

    Unless this somehow becomes a Pete Rose situation, I predict that Gretzky is forced to step aside as coach (“allegedly ala Jordan”) so he can “deal with his wife’s (alleged) gambling issues” and is told to not hang around NHL rinks, etc. for a year or two.

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