SUN Hockey Pool

No Oilers link: Lowe

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

If you've ever played in a weekend poker game, won or lost money on the golf course or laid a few bills down on Monday Night Football, you probably didn't lose any sleep over allegations yesterday that a dozen NHL players made bets with a bookie.

So what if they did? As long as it didn't involve hockey - and the New Jersey based task force that spent eight months working on the case say it didn't - then what's the big deal?

Because it's illegal? Please.

The only reason it's against the law is because the government doesn't get a cut, like the money it skims from all those desperate addicts losing their rent money to VLTs. Legal gambling has ruined more lives than illegal gambling ever will.

SHED A TEAR

So if Operation Slap Shot is waiting for everyone to shed a tear over all the money the U.S. government didn't rake from Rick Tocchet's alleged book, they should pack a lunch.

Unfortunately, there is another, much more disturbing, element to the story.

"The people involved in illegal gambling are often doing other things besides the gambling," said Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe. "And that's what makes it so distasteful."

Indeed. While there's nothing wrong with somebody who can afford it dropping 10 grand on the Steelers and not reporting his winnings to the IRS, you're crossing a line when you drop it in the lap of an organization that investigators say has close ties to a South Philly crime family.

The New Jersey swamps are filled with unfortunate souls who run afoul of multi-million dollar criminal enterprises. And we've all seen Scarface and Goodfellas enough times to know that crime family tentacles extend to recesses darker and more dangerous than college hoops.

If allegations that Tocchet's operation took in $1.7 million in wagers in just over a month are true, and that it had been in business for years, we're talking about money that could have been used to finance a lot of things that should never be financed.

"The allegations are pretty serious," said Lowe, speaking from the NHL meetings located, wouldn't you know it, just outside Las Vegas. "I don't have much comment other than I hope they're not true."

This doesn't come at a good time for the NHL (not that there's really a good time for Wayne Gretzky's assistant coach to be allegedly involved with the Mafia), with the Olympics coming up and the league getting back on its feet after a year-long lockout.

But, as Lowe points out, it could be worse.

"It's one guy, and if he did in fact do it, shame on him," he said. "And if there are others implicated and they did it, shame on them. But, to me, it was a relief, at least, to hear the authorities say there wasn't any betting on hockey.

"I'm not condoning any kind of betting and definitely not illegal betting - the authorities will take care of anything done illegally - but the key for hockey's reputation is that there was no betting on hockey."

And, to the best of his knowledge, no Oilers were involved.

'I KNOW FOR SURE'

"I know for sure, in the sense that I've never heard anybody's name," said Lowe, who's as connected as anyone in the NHL. "I can say forthright and honestly that no Oilers' name has come up."

The investigation is still months away from being completed, and if a game-fixing or point shaving scandal ever comes to light, it would bring the NHL to its knees. Gary Bettman told the GMs yesterday to spread the word, if anyone in the league is ever found guilty of betting on the NHL, or providing inside information to bettors, Pete Rose's penalty is going to look like a wrist slap.

"Gary has made it very clear that you'll never work in hockey again," said Lowe, adding players are advised to stay away from gambling altogether.

"Betting of any kind is frowned upon. It's not illegal for guys to go to Vegas and bet on the Super Bowl, but after what happened with Pete Rose, and just with the optics of a pro athlete betting on pro sports, it's just not wise."


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