Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet has been charged with financing a gambling ring in which current NHL players placed bets, police authorities said Tuesday.
The former NHL star was served with a criminal complaint Monday and is expected to travel from his Arizona home in order to answer charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy, New Jersey state police Col. Rick Fuentes said.
Fuentes said the investigation, dubbed Operation Slap Shot, into the nationwide sports gambling ring run out of New Jersey unearthed the processing of more than 1,000 bets, in excess of $1.7 million US, on professional and college sports.
Fuentes declined to identify which of the half dozen NHL players made wagers, but did say none bet on hockey.
"Many of the (betting) ring's clientele included past and present professional athletes and celebrities who are being interviewed as part of the ongoing investigation," New Jersey state police said in a release.
But two law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Associated Press that Wayne Gretzky's wife, Janet, was among those implicated.
Asked about her alleged involvement, Gretzky, head coach and co-owner of the Coyotes, replied: "Oh really? I don't know. You'd have to ask her that."
The gambling ring was tied to organized crime in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, Fuentes said.
Tocchet said he would co-operate with the authorities.
"I feel bad for the Coyotes and stuff like that, but like I said, it's not a hockey-related issue and that's all I can comment," he told reporters after practice in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Gretzky said Tocchet would be behind the bench for Tuesday night's home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Obviously we're concerned and obviously we feel bad," Gretzky told reporters.
"Everyone in the world is innocent until proven guilty ..." he added. "He's a great guy and he's a good friend. He's just going through a tough time right now. Obviously we've got to let it run its course."
Even though the unnamed players did not bet on hockey games, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league "will monitor the proceedings closely."
The NHL has a "no betting on hockey" policy regarding gambling, a league spokesman said.
Authorities said the 41-year-old Tocchet and state police Trooper James J. Harney were partners in the gambling ring, but that Tocchet financed the operation.
Harney was arrested Monday and was charged with official misconduct, promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy. Another man accused of taking bets, James A. Ulmer, was charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.
Both men were free on bail and are expected to be arraigned within two weeks.
Tocchet took over Phoenix's head coaching duties for 10 days in December 2005 while Gretzky attended to personal matters following the death of his mother.
Tocchet led the club to two wins in five games in Gretzky's absence.
Best remembered for his days with the Philadelphia Flyers, Tocchet played with six teams over 22 NHL seasons, including three campaigns with the Coyotes from 1997-2000.
Tocchet, from Toronto, was drafted by Philadelphia in the sixth round (125th overall) of the 1983 NHL draft.
Tocchet and former New Jersey Devil Pat Verbeek are the only two players in NHL history to score 400 goals and collect 2,500 penalty minutes.
with files from Associated Press