Biggest Sports Betting Scandals in US History: Operation Slapshot (2006)
Written by Nosa
Published date · Oct. 26, 2023 |
Last Updated · Oct. 26, 2023 | Read Time: 4 mins
Rick Tocchet is a former professional ice hockey player and current head coach in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Vancouver Canucks. Known for his physicality on the ice, Tocchet played 1,144 regular-season games in the NHL, accumulating a staggering 2,972 penalty minutes.
Tocchet's career highlights include winning the Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the Penguins and serving as the head coach for the Arizona Coyotes since the 2017-18 season. With a background in junior hockey, Tocchet played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) before joining the NHL.
In 2007, Tocchet was thrust into the limelight for all the wrong reasons by becoming embroiled in an infamous betting scandal. The scandal rocked the hockey community, tarnishing Tocchet's reputation and casting a shadow over his coaching career. As an associate coach with the Phoenix Coyotes at the time, Tocchet's participation in illegal gambling activities came as a shock to many.
Let’s take a look at what went down…
What Was The Operation Slapshot Betting Scandal?
In 2006, an investigation into an illegal sports gambling ring led to shocking revelations involving Rick Tocchet,
The initial investigation, conducted by the New Jersey State Police, uncovered a nationwide sports gambling operation that involved betting on various sports, including professional hockey games.
As the investigation progressed, it revealed that Tocchet's gambling activities extended beyond just placing bets. He was accused of playing a central role in the organization and promotion of gambling, joining forces with several other individuals, including his associate coach, ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones Gretzky.
The gang were said to have handled $1.7 million in bets, including for college football games and the Super Bowl.
The charges of conspiracy and official misconduct were brought against Tocchet, raising concerns about his potential involvement in influencing the outcome of hockey games. The revelation hit close to home for Gretzky, who was Tocchet's close friend and Head Coach of the Coyotes at the time.
Tocchet's role in the gambling operation allegedly included promoting and facilitating illegal bets on various sports, including professional hockey games.
Who Was Involved?
As mentioned earlier, Wayne Gretzky and his wife, Janet Jones Gretzky, found themselves at the center of the scandal.
During the subsequent investigation, it was revealed that Janet Jones Gretzky had placed bets through the gambling ring, totaling more than $100,000. However, she claimed that the bets were for recreational purposes only and not on hockey games.
Wayne Gretzky, who was the Head Coach of the Phoenix Coyotes at the time, came under scrutiny due to his connection to Tocchet.
Despite never placing any bets himself, Gretzky's name was linked to the scandal because of his relationship with Tocchet and Jones Gretzky's involvement. However, no evidence was found to suggest that Gretzky was aware of the illegal gambling activities.
James Harney, a New Jersey former state trooper, found himself entangled in the scandal. Harney's involvement in this illegal gambling operation shocked the hockey community and raised numerous eyebrows.
Harney faced specific charges and actions related to his participation. He was accused of being an active participant in the illegal sports betting ring organized by Tocchet. The charges against him included conspiracy to promote gambling, as well as charges related to his role in the operation, such as taking illegal bets on hockey games.
Impact of The Operation Slapshot Betting Scandal
Tocchet received a sentence of two years probation and 100 hours of community service. As a result of his guilty plea, Tocchet was suspended from the NHL for two seasons and fined $100,000.
Harney was sentenced to five years probation and 500 hours of community service. Both Tocchet and Harney pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, promoting gambling, and money laundering.
Wayne Gretzky was not charged in connection with the gambling operation. Janet Jones Gretzky, however, as one of the individuals named in the scandal, received a sentence of one year probation.
The penalties and punishments imposed on the guilty parties were in accordance with the charges they faced. The court aimed to deter further illegal gambling activities and emphasized the seriousness of engaging in such behaviors, particularly for individuals in influential positions within the sports community.
The allegations of illegal gambling and charges of conspiracy tarnished the image of the Coyotes and the NHL as a whole.
The organization had to deal with the negative publicity associated with the scandal, which had a direct impact on its reputation. Fans questioned the integrity of the team and its players, causing a decline in attendance and support.
Sponsorship deals also suffered as companies distanced themselves from the organization due to the negative association with the gambling scandal. The team had to navigate through the aftermath, seeking to rebuild trust and regain the support of fans and sponsors.
The NHL took disciplinary actions against the Coyotes, fining them $1 million for "official misconduct."