Charles Barkley acknowledged on Thursday he owes a $400,000 gambling debt to Wynn Las Vegas and promised to repay it after a prosecutor said the retired basketball star faced criminal charges.
“My mistake,” Barkley said in an interview at a pro-am golf tournament in Hoover, Ala. “I’m not broke, and I’m going to take care of it.”
Barkley was one of five casino players the Strip property filed lawsuits against on Wednesday to recover unpaid credit. The separate lawsuits filed in Clark County District Court range from $10,000 to $650,000 owed by a resident of Philadelphia.
Barkley was responding to comments by Clark County District Attorney David Roger, who said his office would file a criminal complaint if the former National Basketball Association star did not pay the debt cited by the Wynn Las Vegas.
“He’ll have an opportunity like anybody else to make restitution to the hotel,” Roger said.
Casino companies file complaints with the district attorney’s bad check unit simultaneously with filing lawsuits to recover bad markers and bad checks.
The casino alleged in the four-page complaint that Barkley failed to repay four $100,000 casino markers the casino gave him on Oct. 18 and 19.
“To date, and despite repeated demands, Barkley has refused to repay the $400,000,” the complaint said.
In a radio interview with sports station WJOX in Birmingham, Ala., Barkley repeatedly blamed himself for letting the debt lapse.
He told radio interviewers and a reporter at the golf tournament that the debt stemmed from a wager on the 2008 Super Bowl. He did not explain why Wynn alleged the loans were made in October.
“I’ve been gambling 20 years. I’ve never had this happen before,” the 45-year-old Barkley told WJOX. “It’s my fault I let the time lapse. I screwed up.”
A Wynn Las Vegas spokeswoman declined to comment, stating it is company policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.
MGM Mirage Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Alan Feldman said collecting on markers is a daily activity for his company, which owns 10 casinos on the Strip. However, he added that debtors represent only a small fraction of the “tens of thousands people” that come through the properties in a month.
“It does happen fairly regularly,” Feldman said. “At any given time, there is collection action going on against someone.”
It is unknown whether Barkley has outstanding debts at other casinos.
Wynn Las Vegas, which generated $642.3 million in revenue last year with total revenue for the property at $1.3 billion, has filed 12 lawsuits this year seeking to recover unpaid credit extended to players.
The largest debt is $1.5 million owed by a resident from the state of New York. Another lawsuit seeks repayment of $1 million.
Bad check unit chief Bernie Zadrowski of the district attorney’s office said the Wynn has some of the best casino “collection personnel on the entire planet” and only file lawsuits and complaints as a last resort.
“Only after they have exhausted all their best efforts do they submit it to our office for prosecution,” he said. “They don’t want to submit it to us because it is more work for them.”
Barkley could be granted up to six months to pay if he agrees to the standard district attorney’s office restitution program, Zadrowski said.
Barkley would be responsible for the $400,000 plus a 10 percent program fee to the bad check unit totaling $40,000.
Barkley, now a basketball analyst for Turner Network Television, denied any personal financial problems, and said the casino didn’t call him before filing the complaint.
“All they had to do is call and say, ‘Hey, you owe us this money,'” he said.
Roger said that if the case remains unresolved, as many as four felony theft or four felony bad check charges could be filed. The possible penalty for each theft conviction is one to 10 years in state prison. A conviction on a felony bad check charge could carry a one- to four-year term.
Barkley played 16 NBA seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets. Barkley has made no secret of his gambling over the years. He estimated during a May 2006 interview with ESPN that he’d gambled away about $10 million over the years.
“Do I have a gambling problem? Yeah, I do have a gambling problem,” Barkley said. “But I don’t consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble.”
He said he never bet on basketball, and only bet in casinos. He called it a bad habit, but said he intended to continue.
Review-Journal writer Arnold M. Knightly contributed to this report.