Kenneth Boehm, a Maryland attorney, was getting ready to watch the Redskin-Cowboy game on television when his telephone rang. "There's a story about you in the paper today," a friend told him.

"That's great!" Boehm said. A reporter recently had been interviewing him about his work in the U.S. District Court.

"No, it's not great," the friend said."There's a warrant out for your arrest. The story says you're part of a gambling ring."

Boehm learned that he was one of four men whom the government was charging with conspiracy and "being enaged in the business of betting and wagering" -- that is, bookmaking. The others were George Orfanos of Washington, an airline employe; Saul Glickstein of Baltimore, and Dan Snyder of Alexandria, the former host of WRC's betting-oriented talk show, "Who's Gonna Win on Sunday." Snyder lost his job as soon as the charges against him became public.

Boehm was stunned. He freely acknowledges that he loves to bet -- "It's in my blood" -- but he insists that he never has been a bookmaker.

The FBI arrested Boehm (and Orfanos as well) without citing any occasion when he had been on the receiving end of a wager. The FBI never sought evidence of bookmaking activity by searching him or his property. And the government's version of events in the case clashes frequently with the realities of the gambling world.

In December 1978 the FBI launched a gambling "sting" operation in the area. a woman informant, assisted by three FBI agents, conducted a bookmaking business out of an Arlington apartment. The woman had been a bookie before, and one of the first things she did was to telephone an old acquaintance, Snyder, to say that she was back in action.

Snyder said that after he started to bet with her, the woman was constantly hounding him to help her find more customers. "It was always, 'Danny, I need bettors. Danny, I need more bettors.'" Danny obliged her. He told Boehm, one of his track acquaintances, that he had a reliable bookie. He also referred Orfanos to the woman.

They accepted Snyder's recommendation -- and no wonder! It is not easy to find a bookie who will let you bet every basketball game on the schedule, $7,000 in total wagers, without asking you to post cash or even asking your last name. (That, according to the affidavit which led to the arrest warrant, is what the woman let Orfanos do.)

Boehm and Orfanos were betting the way many bettors do -- placing wagers in the $100-to-$300 range on a variety of games. The FBI came to the conclusion that they were actually bookmakers. In the affidavit, the FBI asserted that its sting operation "was expressly represented as a layoff betting service and not as an individual bookmaking operation."

In other words, the informant's business was to handle bets from other bookmakers who were overloaded with action on certain games, and were "laying off" some of the wagers in order to reduce their liability.

However, bookmakers interviewed by The Washington Post agree that there is not a single such layoff operation in the Washington area. If a bookie with a $200 limit has too much action on a single game, he may lay it off to a bookie with a $500 limit, who in turn may lay off money to one with a $2,000 limit.

The bookmakers said that layoff operations may exist in other cities with organized gambling hierarchies, and they would handle millions of dollars. But they said a small-scale local bookie operation existing only to serve other bookies is unimaginable.

In the government's version of its "sting" operation, the alleged bookmakers with whom it dealt had a penchant for self-incrimination. When Orfanos called in his bets, the affidavit said, "he informed the informant that he was a bookmaker . . . calling the operation to lay off bets." (Perhaps: "You don't know me but I'm a bookmaker and I'm calling in my layoff bets.") Even careless bookies don't often announce their occupation to total strangers on the telephone.

And when Boehm lost money to the FBI "sting" operation in his first week of wagering, he settled up with a personal check drawn on his and his wife's joint account. That is not exactly standard procedure in the bookmaking profession, either.

The only instances of the defendants receiving bets occurred (according to the affidavit) when the informant told Snyder that she needed to lay off some of her wagers. Then, the government says, Snyder accepted some of the wagers himself, and directed others to Glickstein.

The government never has made a policy of prosecuting people who place wagers on sporting events. Has it changed this policy?

The prosecutor answered no. "We're out of the Prohibition era," said Karen Tandy, assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria. "Besides, there's no federal statute I know of for individual bettors . . . Courts have construed the language 'in the business of betting and wagering' to be directed solely toward bookmakers, not individual bet placers."

Tandy added, "All our evidence is not stated in the complaint." She said the government would reveal more of its case against the four defendants in a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

Boehm said he isn't worried about anything that might happen at that hearing. But he is bewildered by the way the government is handling the case, as are some of the other principals in it.

"In these cases," said Orfanos' attorney, Plato Cacheris, "the government should normally establish that a guy is in the business. Normally they break down the door and get the betting slips. They get four or five people who have been betting regularly with the bookmaker to testify."

The FBI did seize some of Snyder's records in May and, according to its affidavit, concluded from them that he was "at least at the level of a bookmaker." But they didn't break down Boehm's door.They didn't break down Orfanos' door. They didn't even send out agents to arrest them. Instead, after the story about the arrest warrants had appeared in the newspaper, they let Boehm and Orfanos turn themselves in the next day.

An FBI spokesman would not discuss the bureau's handling of the case, except to say, "We don't charge people capriciously."

Boehm, for one, wishes the FBI had pursued him the way they usually do pursue bookmakers. "If the FBI had really done its work," he said, "they'd know for certainty that I'm not a bookmaker."