Tony Dorsett's current financial problems stem largely from investments in tax shelters that were disallowed by the Internal Revenue Service, the Dallas Times Herald reported.

The IRS says Dorsett owes more than $400,000 in back taxes covering 1979, 1980 and 1983, and the agency has put a lien on Dorsett's two Dallas-area homes and his 1985 Cowboys' salary of $450,000, The Dallas Morning News reported. "Anything he earns goes to the government," the News said, quoting an unidentified source close to Dorsett.

The Times Herald said Dorsett has lost about $600,000 in oil ventures in the last six months. He also was divorced in February, and his wife received a $250,000 settlement.

Dorsett invested in a range of projects, including solar energy equipment, a Chicago office building and an apartment complex in the Dallas suburb of Garland to shield his income from taxes, the Times Herald said, quoting court records. The newspaper said it was unclear whether the investments prompted his problems with the IRS . . .

The Houston Gamblers of the U.S. Football League have been sold to a five-man group headed by New York real estate developer Steve Ross, just beating a deadline that would have turned the players into free agents.

Ross, 45, heads a group that includes Peter Friedman, David Solomon, Fred DeMattis and Warren Schwerin, also real estate developers. No details of the sale were available.

Jerry Argovitz, formerly a player agent, was a one-third owner of the Gamblers. Jay Roulier and Alvin Lubetkin were the other partners.

When the players failed to receive their last paychecks, an arbitrator ruled that they would be waived at 5 p.m. yesterday if they were not paid. "Mr. Ross will pay the salaries before the deadline," Argovitz told the New York Daily News.

The sale virtually assures the Gamblers will move. Ross said he is not certain if the team would play in New York or merge with the New Jersey Generals. He has talked with Generals owner Donald Trump -- who has exclusive USFL rights to the New York area -- but said no agreement has been reached.

A merger would pair quarterback Jim Kelly, the league's MVP in 1984, with running back Herschel Walker, this season's MVP, in the New Jersey backfield. It also would leave uncertain the future of 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, the present Generals quarterback.