Gretzky allegedly heard on wiretap

Source says ex-star tried to aid wife

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

Wayne Gretzky, hockey's all-time greatest player and the Phoenix Coyotes' head coach, may find he was wrong when he said a few days ago that he is not, was not and "not going to be involved" in the sports gambling investigation that has snared his associate coach, Rick Tocchet.

Gretzky was captured on a New Jersey State Police wiretap apparently discussing how to avoid having his wife, actress Janet Jones, implicated in the illegal sports wagering ring, an unnamed source with knowledge of the probe told the Associated Press yesterday. Gretzky's alleged wiretap conversation was first reported by The Star-Ledger of Newark.

He was scheduled to be behind the bench for the Coyotes' home game against Dallas last night and was not expected to be available for comment until afterward.

In the wiretapped conversation, Gretzky is said to have spoken with Tocchet, who is accused of financing the New Jersey-based bookmaking operation, the AP reported. The source said there remains no evidence that Gretzky placed bets., according to the report.

"At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf, period." Jones said in a statement provided by the Coyotes last night. "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.

The unnamed source also told the AP that Jones allegedly had placed at least $100,000 in bets during the time the police were investigating. Other published reports put Jones" betting much higher.

Yesterday, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice announced that arraignments for Tocchet, Harney and Ulmer were scheduled for Feb. 21 before Burlington County (N.J.) Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith, Jr.

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 with Bettman and Robert Cleary, a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey who has been retained by the league to conduct an internal investigation.

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.

Richard O. Davies, a history professor at the University of Nevada-Reno who has written a book about sports wagering, said several factors drive some athletes to gamble.

"There's the sense of competition and a lot of jocks, because they know sports, think they have an edge. That's what did in Pete Rose." Davies said.

"These guys live on the edge and they get a real rush from having a lot of money on the line."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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