02/10/2006 1:00AM

Tocchet's mess sure to impact Nevada

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The three commissioners representing the NFL, MLB, and the NBA are probably giddy over what's happening with the Rick Tocchet gambling fiasco and the NHL. I can already hear the chorus emanating from Paul Tagliabue, Bud Selig, and David Stern, respectively: "We told you so!"

The commissioners for years have taken public aim against sports gambling with the arrow specifically pointing at Las Vegas and Nevada, the only state where sports wagering is legal.

Now that the Tocchet gambling scandal is the biggest story in sports, it adds fuel to the fire that the pro leagues, and the NCAA, should distance themselves as far away from Las Vegas as possible.

Tocchet, the assistant coach for the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, has been accused by New Jersey authorities of financing an illegal sports betting ring. Tocchet is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 21. His lawyer said in published reports that Tocchet will plead not guilty.

The truth that more than 95 percent of sports betting occurs offshore and illegally with local bookmakers is an unnecessary fact to the anti-gambling sports executives. The culprit, the root of all evil, is Las Vegas.

In reality, the Tocchet story has nothing to do with Las Vegas or Nevada. It has everything to do with the untold billions of dollars bet on sports illegally in the other 49 states. Our house is in order. Nevada sports wagering, and all Nevada gambling for that matter, is tightly regulated by the state's Gaming Control Board.

For example, if someone came here trying to fix a game and bet on one team to cover the point spread, as with Arizona State basketball back in 1997, red flags would go up all over Las Vegas. Benny Silman, who masterminded the ASU scheme, admitted he was too naive to understand the inner workings of sports betting here.

Jimmy Vaccaro, the public relations director for Leroy's, used two words on the Race Day Las Vegas: Extra radio show in describing Tocchet and New Jersey state police trooper James Harney, whom the authorities allege was one of his partners in the betting ring: "stupidity" and "amateurs."

There are an infinite number of ways now to place sports wagers without coming under scrutiny. For these two men to apparently cross the line and become bookmakers themselves was stupid, amateurish, and for a brief time profitable.

According to news reports Harney, who earns $87,000 a year as a state trooper, owns two homes valued at more than a half-million dollars apiece. Search warrants executed on Harney unearthed multiple bank accounts each with balances into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, multiple Rolex watches valued at a quarter-million dollars, nine plasma televisions. And the list goes on.

Just you wait. Nevada is going to incur the wrath and a ripple effect from this. Nevada did after the Northwestern scandal, after the Arizona State scandal, and after the Boston College scandal.

In conclusion, an offshore bookmaker has posted odds on a possible Tocchet trial: conviction and jail time, -250; conviction and probation, -600; not guilty, +400.

Now how's that for bookmaking?

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.