NHL Star Thomas Vanek Gives Testimony in an Illegal Gambling Case
Former Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek appeared in a Rochester court this week to testify in an illegal gambling case. Prosecutors in the case pointed out that he is not accused of any crime, but was called to give testimony. The case involves an illegal gaming operation run out of Marina Restaurant and Bar in Charlotte, New York.
Vanek’s Voluntary Testimony
Vanek’s lawyer says his client appeared voluntarily and has cooperated with the prosecution at every step of the process. Neither Vanek or his lawyer, Joel Daniels, gave comment to local reporters when leaving the courthouse. While “No Comment” looks bad on television, it is likely that the NHL star is bound by court proceedings not to comment on an ongoing case.
Those Charged in the Case
In the case involving Marina’s Restaurant and Bar, three men are charged with illegal count. Restaurant co-owners Paul Borrelli and Joseph Ruff are two of the men, who face 23 separate counts of illegal gambling. While Thomas Vanek presumbly would have had to have gambled at the establishment to be giving useful testimony, such activities are seldom prosecuted by authorities. Operators who profit from banned gambling tend to be the ones prosecuted.
Thomas Vanek’s Hock Career
The 30-year old Thomas Vanek is a star forward in the National Hockey League. Vanek is from Austria, but he played two years for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (2002-03, 2003-04). Through his scoring penchant, he led the Golden Gophers to the 2003 NCAA National Championship. He was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the 5th pick of the 1st round of the 2003 Rookie Draft. After being drafted, Vanek played a year with the Sabres AFL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
In January 2004, Vanek joined the Buffalo Sabres NHL squad. His best statistical year was in 2006-07, though Vanek became an All-Star for the first time in 2009. In between, he signed a restricted free agent deal with the Edmonton Oilers, but the Sabres immediately matched the offer (as was their right to do). During the 2012 Lockout, Thomas Vanek joined the Graz 99ers in Austria.
Loss of Hockey Revenue
The last 18 months have seen a major change in Vanek’s NHL fortunes. On October 1, 2013, he was named team co-captain along with Steve Ott. Less than a month later, Buffalo traded him to the New York Islanders, because the Sabres felt they would not be able to retain him in free agency this time. The Islanders offered Vanek a 7-year, $50 million contract in January 2014, but the star player (unwisely) turned down the offer.
The Islanders came to the same conclusion the Sabres did, so they traded Vanek to the Montreal Canadiens for the remainder of the 2014 season. Though Thomas Vanek was a valuable player in the regular season, he was disappointing in the Canadiens’ deep playoff run. He scored only 5 even-strength goals in 17 postseason hockey matches for the Islanders, who went on to lose to the New York Rangers 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
On July 1, 2014, Thomas Vanek signed a 3-year, $19.5 million contract with the Minnesota Wild. While he received only $500 thousand less per year than he would have received from the Islanders, the length of the contract was not nearly as long, so he left $30 million on the table. When Vanek becomes a free agent in 2017, he will be 33-years old, when he isn’t likely to command as high of a salary.
Testifying in Betting Case
Now Thomas Vanek is testifying in an illegal betting case. Given that most illegal gambling operations run out of a restaurant involve either poker or gaming machines, the fallout from the case is unlikely to affect Vanek too much. A pro sports league like the NHL would be far more concerned if the Marina’s gambling ring turned out to involve sports betting, but that is unlikely to be the case.
When asked about Vanek’s role in the Marina’s Restaurant and Bar case, U.S. Attorney William Hochul declined to give comment.
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