Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Rick Tocchet Gambling Mess

Those of you who don't follow hockey probably know nothing about this story, but "Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet is under investigation in connection with a multimillion dollar gambling ring that allegedly took bets from NHL players and others." The news is generating the predictable response in hockey circles, with the requisite hand-wringing and tut-tutting from fans, media, and senior NHL officials.

You know what I think? Well, of course you do. I'm the anarchist fly in the ointment so you already know what I think. Fuck the state of New Jersey. What bothers me most is how cowed society has become -- cowed by the state, cowed by the media, and cowed by PR concerns. This situation is in no way analogous to the Pete Rose story -- there are no allegations that Tocchet or anyone else bet on hockey. But if hockey does have a problem with its integrity or competition, then the solution must come from in house. Let's not confuse this thing -- this issue has NOTHING to do with hockey's integrity and everything to do with the overbearing state.

NHL Commish Gary Bettman said in a statement: "We view the charges against Mr. Tocchet in the most serious terms. We have pledged our full cooperation to the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office."

Shame on you, Mr. Bettman! Spoken like the smarmy, obsequious lawyer that you truly are. Bravo for standing up to the bully. Just once, I want someone in the public eye to grow a pair and tell the state to butt the fuck out of people's lives. I want someone to wield the concept of jury nullification preemptively, before a trial, and speak the truth about so-called consensual "crimes" -- to stand up and refuse to dignify police and prosecutorial overreach with serious pronouncements and full cooperation. Instead, everybody plays the game of grovelling before the government and pretending that the law means something other than the monopoly of force.

What, you think this is about morality? Or legislation designed to keep people safe? Please. This is about who's in charge. This is the state flexing its authoritarian muscle. Because the state of New Jersey doesn't give a shit about gambling as long as IT alone gets to be the house. See, New Jersey is all too happy for you to gamble away your dollars as long as those bucks find their way into state coffers. You can go to Atlantic City and lose a fortune as long as it's done under the auspices of the state-casino partnership. Tocchet's "crime" is running an operation that competes with the state of New Jersey's gambling monopoly -- a monopoly privilege the state grants to itself, of course. That New Jersey sees your money as its rightful property should tell you something about the nature of the state.

The state has to play the PR game, too. Competition is viewed as healthy and all-American; people tend to bristle over the term "monopoly." So the state can't portray Tocchet's "crime" that way -- it must use loaded terms like "gambling ring" and "ties to organized crime" in order to distract the public from what it is really doing. Thus do the names of respected people like Wayne Gretzky and his wife Janet Jones get dragged through the muck in order to bolster the state's case, which usually works since most people would rather cooperate than appear "guilty" or put their reputations at risk.

But there is nothing inherently wrong with the behavior of Rick Tocchet or anyone else implicated here -- what he and others choose to do with personal property, be it to buy things, invest, give away to charity, or otherwise gamble away, is their prerogative to decide. That is the very essence of private property.

So I'll say again what Rick Tocchet, Wayne Gretzky, and Janet Jones can't (and what Gary Bettman won't): fuck the state of New Jersey. Its strongarm tactics are the legal and socially approved versions of what some of New Jersey's other famous criminals do.

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