Gretzky, wife address gambling ring allegations

Updated: February 10, 2006, 11:39 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Hours after news broke Thursday that Wayne Gretzky can reportedly be heard on wiretaps made within in the past month discussing a nationwide gambling ring with ties to Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, the Great One and his wife addressed allegations about their involvement.

"I'm still going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes. I did nothing wrong, or nothing that has to do with anything along the lines of betting; that never happened," Gretzky said after the Coyotes' 5-1 loss to the Stars. "... I'll say it one more time: I didn't bet, didn't happen, not going to happen, hasn't happened, not something I've done."

Oh, Canada: President of COC responds
Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, met with the media in Torino on Friday. He told reporters that, as far as Canadian Olympic officials are concerned, the NHL gambling saga is a continent away.

"That is in North America. That is not here," he said. "It may make its way here over the Web and whatnot, but that is not being talked about among the Canadian team. That is an NHL issue, that's an issue for those who may be involved, but it is not an issue for the Canadian Olympic team and it won't be."

He added that, as far as he was concerned, the issue wouldn't make it into the International Olympic Committee's sights.

"It doesn't compromise any ethical or Olympic standard," he said. "My understanding is that there is no evidence that any Olympians have been involved in any immoral conduct whether it be gambling, if one can describe it as that, or anything else. It is outside the envelope right now."

But he knows the story won't go away.

"You will have your opinion on whether it's a big deal and I will have my opinion on whether it is a big deal," Chambers aid. "It is a big deal in North America. I said that it is not a big story in Torino. Maybe amongst the Canadian media it's a big story in Torino, but my Italian colleagues have not been speaking to me at great lengths about it."

Chambers said that Gretzky will leave for Italy on Sunday, as scheduled, following Phoenix's final game before the NHL's Olympic break.

"Mr. Gretzky is very capable of dealing with this story on his own accord and we see nothing in this story that requires any Olympic response at this time," Chambers said.

Gretzky sounded weary talking to reporters after the game for about two minutes.

"I hope you appreciate that these three days have been horrible and I'm just too tired mentally and physically to talk any more about it," he said. "There's nothing more for me to talk about and if you have questions for people involved in this, you should contact them."

He confirmed that he has no plans to resign as executive director of Hockey Canada and will travel to Torino on Sunday for the Olympics.

Gretzky was recorded on a wiretap talking to the alleged financier of a gambling ring, discussing how his wife, actress Janet Jones Gretzky, could avoid being implicated, a person with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported in Thursday's editions that there is no evidence that Gretzky placed bets, but investigators are looking into whether his wife placed them for him.

"At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf," Jones Gretzky said in a statement Thursday. "Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on any sports."

Jones Gretzky has not been charged. Elliot Mintz, a spokesman for Jones Gretzky, said in a statement that she may be called as a witness before a grand jury in New Jersey.

"Janet is merely one of a number of witnesses and there is no allegation whatsoever that Janet has violated any law," he said.

Authorities say from Dec. 29 through Feb. 5 -- the day of the Super Bowl -- bettors placed a total of $1.7 million in wagers with the ring run by Tocchet, a New Jersey state trooper and a South Jersey man. All face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy and are scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court in Mount Holly on Feb. 21, the state Attorney General's office said Thursday.

Investigators are looking into whether anyone involved in the 5-year-old ring, which authorities say had a connection to organized crime in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, bet on NHL games. Gretzky is not the main focus of the probe, the person said.

A source close to the team told ESPN.com on Thursday that GM Mike Barnett placed a Super Bowl bet with Tocchet for a few hundred dollars. Barnett, accordng to the source, told investigators he placed the bet with Tocchet because he knew Tocchet was known in the dressing room to be a regular bettor on football games and a regular visitor to nearby Las Vegas during team breaks. The source said Barnett was told by New Jersey investigators that he would not be subpoenaed and that they no longer consider him part of the investigation.

"I met with investigators from the state of New Jersey last night and answered all of their questions honestly and in their entirety," Barnett said in a statement. "They informed me that my conduct has in no way violated either federal or state laws."

The Star-Ledger of Newark, citing unidentified law enforcement sources, first reported of a wiretap involving Gretzky in Thursday's newspapers. The newspaper also reported that Jones bet $500,000 during the investigation, including $75,000 on the Super Bowl.

Earlier in the week, Gretzky denied any involvement in the ring.

"My love for her is deeper than anything. The reality is, I'm not involved, I wasn't involved and I'm not going to be involved. Am I concerned for both of them [Tocchet and Jones Gretzky]? Sure, there's concern from me. I'm more worried about them than me. I'm like you guys, I'm trying to figure it all out," Gretzky said Tuesday.

In an interview with ESPN.com's Mike Fish, Marino criticized the New Jersey state police, particularly for speaking so extensively to the media.

"I have to tell you, I think that to suggest that Rick Tocchet involved himself in this underworld gambling enterprise, or that he financed it, made money off it or whatever, I think it is very, very irresponsible. It is just completely false," Marino said.

"I am not going to begin to speculate on why they brought the charges that they did," Marino added. "I can only tell you that in this country we respond to the allegations that are leveled against us. And when they are serious allegations we respond to them if they are leveled against us by a grand jury. That hasn't even happened here yet. My expectation is that when and if he is indicted on these charges we will go forward and have him vindicated, because he is not guilty.

"I think it is unfortunate that they have decided to proceed in this fashion. To have Mr. Gretzky, who has not even been accused of a crime, much less indicted, to have his named bandied about as though somehow he is involved, I think is really reprehensible," he said.

Attorneys for all three men charged in what authorities have dubbed "Operation Slap Shot" said they will fight the charges.

"This case will not be a guilty plea," said Charles A. Peruto Jr., who is representing James Ulmer.

Ulmer, along with Trooper James Harney, is accused of taking wagers and cuts of the bets.

The allegations have sent shock waves through the hockey world.

State investigators said they will interview more hockey players who were believed to have placed bets, in part to determine whether there was any gambling on hockey. So far, authorities say, they do not have evidence that there was.

The NHL has hired Robert Cleary, a former federal prosecutor who handled the Unabomber case, to investigate.

Cleary said Thursday that he was not sure how long his work might take, in part because he wants to stay out of the way of law enforcement agents who are continuing to investigate.

Hockey players are prohibited from making NHL wagers, legal or otherwise. There are no rules that forbid them from placing legal bets on other sports.

With the NHL launching its own investigation into the alleged gambling ring, the National Hockey League Players' Association has been telling its members that their collective bargaining agreement gives them the right to counsel or players union counsel present during interviews, the association said in a statement released Thursday.

"In addition, the NHLPA has recommended that players investigated in connection with criminal proceedings retain counsel so that their legal rights are fully protected," the statement reads.

Tocchet and his attorney met with commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday, officially informing the commissioner of the pending charges Tocchet is facing.

On the advice of Marino, Tocchet wasn't prepared to respond to specific questions about the allegations, the NHL said in a news release. At the end of the meeting, the league said Tocchet requested the leave of absence.

Bettman agreed to the leave as long as several conditions were met. Tocchet must immediately cease all contact and communication with NHL and team personnel and stay away for the duration of his leave. He will not be allowed to return without Bettman's consent.

The commissioner also reserved the right to change the terms of Tocchet's absence at any time.

"We view the charges against Mr. Tocchet in the most serious terms," Bettman said in a statement. "We have pledged our full cooperation to the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.