An illegal bookmaking and sports betting operation allegedly is being run out of the front office of the Washington Bullets basketball team, according to information developed by Prince George's County police during a secret six-month investigation.

The probe has focused on one high-ranking official -- director of marketing Chip Reed -- and at least three other club employes, according to informed sources. Reed, the sources said, has used his Capital Centre office and other locations for heavy betting operations.

The alleged bookmaking operation, strategically located in the same Largo arena where scores of sporting events are held each year, is said to be connected to a larger, long-running illegal betting network in the Washington area.

The investigation, conducted in utmost secrecy by half a dozen county police officers using a number of informants, has been considered extremely sensitive because of the ramifications a gamblng connection could have on the professional franchise.

The Bullets are supposed to adhere strictly to the National Basketball Association's policy against gambling by players and team officials. The alleged bookmaking operation, according to one police official familiar with the probe, "could be jeopardizing the franchise."

The NBA club's highest-ranking officials -- team owner Abe Pollin, president Jerry Sachs and general manger Bob Ferry -- had no knowledge of the alleged gambling operation, police said. In addition, police found no evidence linking the operation to any of the team's coaches or players, nor do they have any evidence that games have been fixed.

Pollin, contacted yesterday, said he had been informed of the police investigation recently while he was traveling in Europe. "I told my people to cooperate in any way we could so we could get to the bottom of this," said the Bullets owner. "That's all I know."

Sachs, the president of the franchise, said the investigation was "totally new and shocking to use."

A police source close to the investigation said "Pollin gave us 110 percent cooperation on this thing" once he learned of the investigation. The source said Pollin told only one person about the probe of his club -- the chief of security for the NBA in New York.

In 1973, the Bullets moved from Baltimore to suburban Washington, where they shared the Capital Centre arena with the Washington Capitals ice hockey team. Pollin owns both professional franchises and the arena, which also hosts boxing matches and other sports and entertainment events.

The Bullets, Capitals and Capital Centre are separate corporations with different front-office personnel, aside from owner Pollin. The gambling investigation is said to focus on the basketball organization and the Capital Centre, but not on the hockey team.

The Bullets probe began last Decembr after county police staged a gambling raid at a Laurel apartment. During the raid, police confiscated money and gambling equipment and arrested 42-year-old Leonard Harold Goldberg, who was charged with bookmaking, and other gambling-related offenses.

They also discovered that the apartment at 8749 Contee Rd., belonged to Chip Reed, 34, the Bullets' director of marketing. Reed was away at the time of the raid and was not arrested or charged by police.

Goldberg, according to his lawyer, eventually was placed on probation, before his trial on the gambling charges, as a result of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Shortly after the Laurel raid, however, police were provided information alleging that Reed and another Bullets official, Randy Quartemont, the club's director of season ticket sales and office manager, were making book and placing bets at the Capital Centre and were part of a larger gambling network extending outside the front office.

The police department's vice intelligence section then launched a special investigation of the Bullets front office, using six investigators and several well-placed informers. The investigation was of such secret nature that it was in place for several months before police chief John E. McHale learned of its existence.

Said a police official supervising the investigation: "If this alleged bookmaking and gambling was in a local cleaners, we wouldn't be looking at it. But because it's the Bullets, you have to look at it in depth and eliminate the players and management personnel."

The police investigators, according to sources, are probing allegations that Reed and Quartemont bet heavily themselves and laid off other employer' bets with bookmakers at locations around the area.

Reed has been a Bullets employe for 10 years. He is responsible for the team's entire marketing effort, supervising the club's sales, advertising and promotional programs. According to the team's media guide, Reed graduated from Towson State College and was a schoolteacher in Baltimore County before joining the Bullets.

Reed declined to comment, and Quartemont could not be reached.

Police have been interviewing employes in an attempt to determine how widespread the betting has been among lower-level workers at the Capital Centre and in the Bullets front office. Along with Reed and Quartemont, sources said, at least two other employes allegedly have been involved in the gambling ring, including one man who works for a Capital Centre concessionaire.

According to sources, the police are also investigating an alleged payoff location for the bookmaking operation at a doughnut shop on Branch Avenue near the District line.