Gretzky says he did not make bets

Ex-star: `That just never happened'

February 10, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

In the course of just a couple of minutes last night, Phoenix Coyotes coach and hockey great Wayne Gretzky said no fewer than nine times that he was not involved in placing wagers with the illegal bookmaking operation that his associate coach, Rick Tocchet, is accused of financing.

"First and foremost, I'm not going anywhere. I'm still going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes," Gretzky said after a 5-1 home loss to the Dallas Stars. "I've done nothing wrong. I've done nothing that has to do anything along the lines of betting. That just never happened."

Gretzky, who spoke without taking questions, said he intended to travel to Italy on Sunday to be with the Canadian Olympic hockey team in Turin.

"I'll say it one more time and as I said the other night: I didn't bet, didn't happen, it's not gonna happen, hasn't happened. It's not something I've done," Gretzky reiterated.

He said he appreciates the support he has received and added, "I felt like the last three days, I've defended myself over something that absolutely, unequivocally never happened, that I wasn't involved with."

"So saying all that, I hope you appreciate that three days have been horrible. I am too tired mentally and physically to talk any more about it. There's nothing for me to talk about. If you have any questions for people who are involved in this, you should contact them."

Gretzky did not address an Associated Press report that he had been caught on a New Jersey State Police wiretap during the investigation discussing with Tocchet how Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, could avoid being implicated. The AP said that an unnamed source with knowledge of the probe also said that Jones allegedly placed at least $100,000 with the betting ring during a 40-day period monitored by police. Gretzky's alleged wiretapped conversation was first reported by the Newark Star-Ledger.

The source said that there remains no evidence that Gretzky placed bets, according to the AP report.

Jones released a statement yesterday saying, "At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf, period. Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on any sports."

Tocchet, 40, is charged along with New Jersey state trooper James J. Harney, 40, and another New Jersey man, James A. Ulmer, 40, of operating the gambling ring that took in $1.7 million in wagers during a 40-day period from late 2005 through Feb. 5, Super Bowl Sunday. Typically, bookmakers keep a profit of 3 percent to 10 percent of the total amount wagered.

Law enforcement officials have said the investigation, named Operation Slap Shot, will include interviewing NHL players who are believed to have placed bets with the ring, which began operations sometime in 2001. However, law enforcement officials said the investigation remains focused on gambling, not game-fixing.

Yesterday, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice announced that arraignments for Tocchet, Harney and Ulmer were scheduled for Feb. 21.

A lawyer for Tocchet said he plans to fight the charges, according to the AP.

The Coyotes' associate coach, who also played for 18 seasons, was granted a conditional leave of absence by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after a Wednesday night meeting.

NHL players are prohibited from betting on league games, but otherwise are allowed to place legal wagers. Law enforcement officials have said several times that they had so far uncovered no evidence that betting on hockey took place and that most of the wagers were on football and basketball.

While Tocchet and the other two men face charges categorized as second-degree crimes, which are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, those who merely placed wagers would likely not face state prosecution.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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