Investigators have revealed that Jeremy Roenick, the star center for the Philadelphia Flyers National Hockey League club, was a client of National Sports Consultants, a Fort Meyers, Florida-based sports handicapping service charged in April with operating an illegal gambling service.
Because there's no evidence that Roenick bet on hockey, the incident will likely pass without serious repercussions for Roenick. The NHL prohibits its players from betting on hockey, but has no restrictions on wagering on other sports.
National Sports Consultants provided extensive inside intelligence on the outcomes of sporting events in exchange for money until April of this year, when the U.S. Department of Justice brought charges against the firm, alleging that employees received kickbacks for encouraging customers to place bets with specific offshore sports books. Eleven of the 12 defendants in the case have pleaded guilty not only to accepting illegal kickbacks but also to falsely claiming to possess inside information about the games on which they were offering betting advice.
Lee County Shefiff's Cap. Mike Johnston said that while examining documents obtained from the firm, investigators discovered that Roenick was a client who had paid "somewhere north of $100,000," within a year of the company's closing. Investigators began probing whether Roenick gambled on hockey, but were satisfied that he had not and therefore dropped their inquiry.
"He never became a target of the investigation," Johnston said, "and we at no time developed any information that he was involved in any illegal activity."
Roenick, 34, reportedly paid for tips on football and college basketball games but insists that he never bet on or received advice about hockey. "Never, no way. It never came up. Never once in a conversation. Never, never, never," he said. "I can't stress that enough."
He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he had been gambling for years but quit in January when Flyers general manager Bob Clarke warned him to stop after overhearing locker room banter that Roenick was gambling on sports. The Flyers say they didn't report the matter to the NHL because they don't believe he did anything illegal.
Two employees for National Sports Consultants, however, say that Roenick continued to deal with the company until just before the raid in April. They say Reonick was using the service to make wagers on the NCAA basketball tournament in March.
Roenick, who will earn $7 million with the Flyers next season, disputes investigators' claims that he spent over $100,000 with National Sports Consultants. He argues that he spent much less for tips and that he wagered only between $50,000 and $100,000.
He also told the Inquirer that sports betting is prevalent among professional athletes. "I think it goes through all sports, but who knows?" he said. "I just hope and pray that no one is stupid enough to bet on the sport they're involved in."
Not all professional sports teams in the United States are as lenient as the NHL when it comes to gambling. The NFL, for example, forbids its players from betting on other sports, so a football player in the same predicament would not get off as easily as Roenick. One of National Sports Consultants' employees told the Inquirer that at least one NFL player was a client, though that player's name has not emerged.
As for his own gambling, Roenick said he enjoys it, but that he doesn't have a problem.
"If you go in [to the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program], you're admitting there is a problem," he told the Inquirer. "It's not a problem whatsoever with me. If I was continuing to do this stuff, then it's different. I've chopped it off at the knees and stopped it completely. If I wasn't able to do that, then there would be a problem, and I would look into it."
He added, "It's been a dead subject with me for a long time. Unfortunately, I have to get this out of the way because it's in the media. They have to do what they do, and I have to roll with the punches. You stand up to it, you live up to it, and you move on. I've don’t that."
Roenick has played in six NHL All-Star games and scored over 100 points in three consecutive seasons while with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Another NHL star, the Washington Capitals' Jaromir Jagr, made headlines in March 2003 when it was reported that he accumulated more than $500,000 in debts gambling with CaribSports, an online sports book.