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Kevin Smith

NHL Star Downplays Internet Gambling Scanda

13 March 2003

A day after news of his online gambling exploits made its way through the national media, NHL star winger Jaromir Jagr admitted to making mistakes, but took issue with what he felt were inaccurate claims made by his bookmaker.

Earlier this week William Caesar, who owns and operates told Sports Illustrated that Jagr, a member of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, racked up more than $500,000 in gambling debts and failed to pay off his account.

League and team officials aren't commenting about the situation, but Jagr and Caesar were telling their sides of the story through the media.

Originally Caesar told SI that Jagr opened up an account with him in 1997 and quickly started to incur debts from losing bets. In 2000 the two sides reached an agreement through which Caesar agreed to knock off nearly $50,000 of Jagr's $500,000 outstanding debt as long as the Czech native agreed to a monthly payment plan that would zero out the debt after nine months.

Caesar said it was only after Jagr stopped making the payments that he leaked the information to various media outlets in hopes of applying pressure on Jagr to pay up.

"We didn't like being ignored," Caesar said. "Obviously, we did this to help get back our money."

Caesar claims it's been eight months since Jagr satisfied the debt, but Jagr told the Washington Post Wednesday that he settled up years ago.

"This was all taken care of in 1999," Jagr told the paper after his team had a practice at its Washington D.C.-area facility. "This is old news. . . . It wasn't smart. I made a mistake."

The NHL has no restrictions related to "recreational gambling" as long as no money is wagered on NHL games.

Caesar said Jagr's account was set up in such a fashion that the player wasn't allowed to put money down on league games.

Although the league has a liberal gambling policy relative to other U.S.-based professional sports leagues, a spokesman from the NHL Players Association said every year players are educated on gambling and a host of other issues before the season starts.

"We don't single out gambling or Internet gambling," said John Weatherdon, NHLPA Media Relations Director. "But we have doctors that come and lecture our players every season as part of the substance abuse and behavioral health problems program. We talk about gambling but it is brought up in the course of the program."

Weatherdon said it was unlikely that the league or the NHLPA would advocate a change in the gambling policy that is in place.

"It is an individual player issue," he said. "Who is to say what a player can or can't do in his free time? As long as he isn't compromising the game there isn't a whole lot we can do about it. If there was betting involved on NHL games then we would deal with the issue."

Jagr's employer, the Washington Capitals, echoed those sentiments. "This is a personal matter for him," said Kurt Kehl, a spokesperson for the team. "We just go with what league policies are and make sure our players are following them."

Weatherdon speculated that the Jagr incident was the first Internet-betting issue that the union had seen and that because it deals only with Jagr's off-ice betting habits there was little the NHLPA would or could do about the situation.

For Jagr, the CaribSports experience wasn't his only experiences with gambling or not paying off debts.

During the late 1990s he was a frequent visitor to the Las Vegas MGM Grand and Bally's casinos. Additionally, according to published reports, he was extended a $500,000 line of credit and private baccarat table by Caesars' casino in Atlantic City.

Earlier this year the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien against the seven-time all-star in Pennsylvania, where he owns a 12,000-square-foot home. The IRS claims that Jagr owes $3,270,209 in income tax for the year 2001.

Last August, the IRS filed a claim for $350,000 in unpaid taxes for the year 1999. Jagr, who will earn $11.48 million this season, paid the debt, and the lien was removed.

NHL Star Downplays Internet Gambling Scanda is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith