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Operation Slapshot refers to a code name that was given to an undercover operation conducted by New Jersey state police to take down a gambling ring that took place throughout the United States. It involved people on NHL teams, either players (both current and former), coaches, staff members, state troopers. It was started in 2001 and went on until 2006, when it was brought down. The investigation was started off a tip, and lasted for four months, when it was made public in early 2006.
Over the course of the investigation, over a thousand wagers were tied to the ring, and it involved close to two million dollars. Most of the bets were placed on basketball and football on both the professional and college levels. This news came out at a poor time, as the NHL was going through a lockout and were trying to get back fans, and at the same time have some of the best players that they have to offer compete in the Turin Winter Olympics.
The gambling ring involved Janet Jones (Wayne Gretzky’s wife, actress, and model), Rick Tocchet (assistant head coach of the Coyotes at the time), James Harney, Wayne Gretzky (at the time this happened coach of the Coyotes, former player in the NHL for over twenty years, minority owner of the Coyotes), Michael Barnett (at the time, the general manager of the Coyotes), Jeremy Roenick (played center in the NHL for over twenty years), and Travis Green (center in the NHL for over ten years).
Barnett, who was Gretzky’s former agent, admitted that he placed a bet on Super Bowl XL with the help of Tocchet. There were also other players, coaches, and other staff members who were implicated in the gambling ring. The gambling ring allegedly had ties to the Bruno-Scarfo crime family, who has their operation in Philadelphia and New Jersey. The ring did not violate the NHL’s policy against gambling inside the sport of pro hockey (it is okay for hockey players to bet on sports, as long as they do so in a legal manner), as all bets were made outside the sport of hockey. The NHL has similar policies as the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association.
After being charged with money laundering, official misconduct, promoting gambling, and conspiracy, James Harney, an ex-state trooper who worked on the force for eight years, pleaded guilty to the charges, and agreed to help with the case against Tocchet and the others involved, and said that he and Tocchet were equal partners in the ring. His bail was set at $100,000, but only had to pay ten percent of it to get out. After he was arrested, he got himself suspended, and later fired. Tocchet pleaded guilty and got two years worth of probation; under the terms of his probation, he was not allowed to partake in gambling in any form, and be able to prove (to NHL-NHLPA doctors) that he was not a compulsive gambler. In early August of 2007, Harney was sentenced to six years in prison. Tocchet handled the money, and Harney took the wagers over the phone from everyone.
James Ulmer, also brought up on charges of promoting gambling, conspiracy, and money laundering, agreed to help authorities. The authorities took possession of a large amount of sports betting information, over $25,000 in money, as well as various accounts that had hundreds of thousands of dollars in them.
Janet Jones said that she never placed bets of any kind for her husband, and besides a rare bet on a horse race, he never bet on anything. Even though the Jersey State Police have him on tape talking about the gambling ring. Neither faced criminal charges for the parts in the ring; as their lawyers said there was no sufficient evidence. A defamation suit was filed against New Jersey by Rick Tocchet and Janet Jones on the grounds that they lost business opportunities because their names were drug through the mud over the course of the investigation.
This is not the first example of gambling inside the NHL. As far back as the late 1940s there has been gambling, two men bet on games inside the sport of hockey and were banned for life.