07/28/2005 11:00PM

Barkley opines on NBA stance

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The very industry that has built Las Vegas into a gaming and entertainment capital is the very reason why the city is still searching for a professional sports franchise to call its own.

While Las Vegas calls it gaming, most major-league sports still call it gambling.

So, while the city sits on the brink of hosting an NBA All-Star game, we read the opinion of one of the sport's most talented former players.

A recent headline in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said it all: "NBA bet stance irks Barkley."

While in town to play in a celebrity poker tournament at The Mirage to raise money for Operation Smile and the American Cancer Society, Charles Barkley let forth his opinion. And Sir Charles held court to a full house.

Although Barkley, who is now an analyst for the TNT cable network during the season, knew he would ruffle the feathers of powerful people at the NBA, he was staunch in his opinion.

The NBA's commissioner, David Stern, has stated on several occasions that Las Vegas is not a consideration for an NBA team as long as the state's sports books take action on the games. Prefacing his comments with respect for Stern as the "best commissioner in sports," Barkley put it this way: "I just think they're hypocrites. People are going to bet on sports."

He went on to say, "Vegas deserves an NBA team, and I hope they get one here. It should have been done already."

Barkley also believes that wagering on sports is partially responsible for the popularity of the games.

"Gambling and sports go together," He said. "That's the reason football is probably the most popular sport." Barkley should know. His famous six-figure Super Bowl bet a few years ago was the talk of the town when he beat the book at underdog odds on New England.

The Review-Journal story also quoted former UNLV basketball player Greg Anthony, who played 11 years in the NBA.

"I do believe that you're going to see a professional team in Las Vegas in the very near future," he said. Anthony, an ESPN analyst and organizer of the charity event, also thinks a pro franchise would be beneficial for the city and the league.

Even with Barkley's bluntness, the issue of betting on games still remains with the decision-makers. Although a provision was made by Las Vegas sports books to take the All Star game off the boards in exchange for hosting the event, banning bets on an entire season of games seems unlikely.

Las Vegas sports books want as much integrity in the game as the league does. Integrity, in some cases, has strange bedfellows. So much so that even the NCAA is again reaching out to the state's sports books for help in monitoring any suspicious betting patterns on college games this year. This is the same NCAA that supported unsuccessful efforts by federal lawmakers to ban betting on collegiate sports in the state.

Addressing an often-heard concern, Barkley said, "For them to say it brings in the criminal element is crazy."

Concluding his view of the situation, Barkley said, "But, whether a team is here or not, that's not going to stop gambling on sports." The NBA is, he said, "making a mistake."

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.