02/08/2002 12:00AM

Trouble over big Barkley bet

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LAS VEGAS - With football season completed, talk in Las Vegas sports books is starting to turn toward basketball. But not necessarily in the way you might think.

A big topic of hushed conversations this past week in town has had nothing to do with the West being a 1 1/2-point favorite over the East in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game. Shaq's injured toe? Michael Jordan's comeback? Jason Kidd? Allen Iverson?

Nope, they all get brushed aside when another basketball icon gets mentioned: Charles Barkley.

The retired Barkley spends a lot of his free time in Las Vegas in between his gigs as an analyst on TBS and TNT, so it was no surprise that he was in Vegas for the Super Bowl last Sunday. His antics occasionally wind up in the gossip columns, but most of the time he's seen as just another celebrity who frequents the city. No big deal.

But when Mandalay Bay sports book director Nick Bogdanovich resigned Monday, Barkley was part of the story.

Bogdanovich, a bookmaker for 16 years, built a reputation at Binion's Horseshoe for taking any size bet. He did the same at the Stratosphere and was brought to Mandalay Bay to do the same for its high-end clientele.

In last Monday's Chicago Tribune, Steve Rosenbloom wrote: "That's the thing about Bogdanovich. He lets people play. Many casinos run by corporate types set limits. The MGM Grand, for instance, limits its own whales - that's Vegas for high rollers - to $50,000 on the Super Bowl, $20,000 if you're a local wise guy (that's Vegas for professional gambler). The new truth here is people who run Vegas are afraid to take a gamble. Not Bogdanovich. At Mandalay Bay, in the spirit of Vegas, it's all you can eat."

Mandalay Bay won't answer inquiries on the matter; it has a policy not to discuss an individual customer's wagers. But the story, confirmed from two casino sources who requested anonymity, goes like this:

Barkley, a guest at the MGM Grand, wandered over to Mandalay Bay to bet the big game. Bogdanovich received a call from the Mandalay Bay pit to expect Barkley and to take care of him.

Barkley wanted to bet $500,000 on the Patriots +14 and another $50,000 on the Patriots money line at 4-1. Bogdanovich gave Barkley the tickets without taking any cash or chips, assuming Barkley's credit was good, and without getting approval from his bosses.

It was then learned that Barkley only had $500,000 in casino credit and had exceeded his limit. In addition, he hadn't signed a marker (a promise to pay his debt in case he lost), so he was walking around with more than half a million in bets that he technically didn't have to pay for.

Mandalay Bay sent someone to the MGM Grand to find Barkley and have him sign a marker or void the bets. Barkley refused to sign anything, a source said. This tied Bogdanovich's hands. Not knowing if the bets were on, Bogdanovich wasn't able to adjust his odds to balance the book's liability on such a large bet.

As we all know, the Patriots beat the Rams, 20-17. Barkley won about $700,000 on his wagers and that greatly affected Mandalay Bay's bottom line on the game. (The entire state of Nevada won $2.3 million in Super Bowl wagers this year, so if Mandalay Bay had voided Barkley's bets the state-wide profits could have been $3 million.)

Sources say that Bogdanovich was allowed to resign before getting fired over the incident, for not following gaming procedures. He was the victim of the regulatory system, which has already chased some big-time bettors away from Nevada and now is chasing away big-time bookmakers, too.

Free contests for hoops fans

There are two free basketball handicapping contests in town.

Boulder Station's contest runs each Tuesday though Sunday. Contestants select 10 games a week either against the spread or with the money line to win straight-up. The person with the highest bankroll at the end of the week wins $500.

The other free b-ball contest in town is at the two Fiesta properties, one in North Las Vegas and the other in Henderson. This contest is only on Fridays and entrants pick every side and total on that night's NBA card. The person with the most winners receives $500.

King of the Hill alters format

The King of the Hill horse handicapping contest was scheduled to end last week, but Bob Gregorka, the race book director for the Coast Resorts (Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, The Orleans and the Suncoast), decided to change the format and keep the contest going.

The King of the Hill contest is now on Thursdays (it was previously on Wednesdays and Fridays) and will now have a $10 entry fee with a maximum of two per person. Contestants actually get two contests for the price of one. Half of the entry fees goes into the "win side" in which players try to accumulate the highest winning mutuels from the first five races at Santa Anita. The other half goes into the "consistency side" in which a contestant's selections must finish in the top three in the first and second race, the top two in the third and fourth race, and must win the fifth race to be King of the Hill.

Coast Resorts seeds the prize pools with $1,000 on the win side and $2,000 on the consistency side.