Art Schlichter, a quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, had "a taste for gambling" but now fears for his life because of his role as a material witness in an FBI investigation and the arrest of four alleged Maryland gamblers to whom he reportedly still owed $159,000, the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal said yesterday in a copyright article.

Schlichter also fears he may have severely jeopardized his NFL career, the paper said it was told. "He is in a state of confusion," an unnamed source was quoted as saying. "The kid has some serious problems."

"They (the alleged gamblers) moved in on him," the source said, characterizing Schlichter as a naive young man. "He had a bright light on his head. It's a sad story, I'll tell you that. If people knew why he bet all that money, they would empathize with Schlichter."

"He liked to bet before he turned pro and the main thing now is he just had more money," Anthony Berlin, an old friend of Schlichter, told the Baltimore Sun.

Berlin, a county highway worker in Wilmington, Ohio, said Schlichter started betting on pro basketball games last fall. "Art definitely had a taste for gambling," said John Patton, a Wilmington car dealer who knew Schlichter.

"At Ohio State, he went a lot to Beulah Park and Scioto Downs, Columbus area race tracks," Patton said.

Berlin, who played basketball against Schlichter in high school, said the former Ohio State star confided several weeks ago that he was troubled about his gambling debts. "He said he had gotten himself in a lot of trouble by getting way in over his head gambling," Berlin said.

"He was just worried and everything, afraid he had went too far. He didn't know what to do."