CLEVELAND (AP) _ Albert Belle, whose place among baseball's elite sluggers has been threatened by violent outbursts and repeated suspensions, has admitted under oath that he recently lost as much as $40,000 gambling on sports.

Belle, who signed a $55 million, five-year contract with the Chicago White Sox in November, said Tuesday he bet on pro football, college basketball and golf games with friends.

Belle insisted, however, he had never violated baseball rules by betting on the sport.

He said the lawyer in a civil suit against him ``is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill,'' and that sports betting is common in lockerrooms.

``We bet on everything,'' Belle told USA Today. ``Basketball games, football games, horse racing, auto racing.

``It's no different than anyone else's office pool.''

Belle's gambling admission was made in a deposition in a lawsuit related to a confrontation he had with Halloween pranksters in 1995.

He also revealed a domestic violence-related assault conviction stemming from an incident in 1988 _ one year after he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

Belle's lawyer, Jose Feliciano, said Wednesday his client did not gamble on baseball games. Such bets are grounds for suspension _ for life if a player wagers on his own team.

``None of this stuff had to do with baseball,'' Feliciano said. ``Absolutely none of it.''

Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, pointed out that many of the owners who pay athletes and the journalists who cover them bet on sports, too.

``Albert's done nothing wrong or illegal,'' Tellem said. ``Albert Belle has never bet on a baseball game.''

Lawyer Richard Lillie, who questioned Belle, represents the guardian of a teen-ager who contends Belle injured him with his truck after the player's house was egged in a Halloween prank on Oct. 31, 1995.

Lillie said Wednesday that Belle admitted $40,000 in gambling debts and acknowledged purchasing money orders in amounts under $10,000 to pay those debts.''

Major league baseball spokesman Rich Levin said officials were aware of Belle's testimony. The Washington Post reported today that baseball planned to place Belle on probation, but Levin said ``that report was absolutely untrue.''

``We will look into the situation as we do a lot of things,'' Levin said. ``But no decision has been made.''

Kevin Hallinan, baseball's security head, is investigating to determine whether Belle violated any of baseball's rules.

Belle also revealed in the deposition that he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year probation on a 1992 assault conviction, Lillie said. Court records show Belle was convicted of domestic violence-related assault stemming from an incident that took place in Tucson, Ariz., on July 5, 1988.

A pretrial hearing in the civil case was scheduled for March 5 with Cuyahoga County Judge James Sweeney. Belle will be at spring training with the White Sox in Sarasota, Fla., and will not be required to attend.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf professed support for Belle.

``There is no indication that Albert bet on baseball games,'' he told the Chicago Tribune. ``So at the moment, I'm not worried.''

Gambling is a misdemeanor in Ohio, but it was unclear if Belle would face criminal charges as a result of his testimony. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Stephanie Tubbs Jones did not return a telephone message Wednesday.

Pete Rose, baseball's career hits leader, was suspended from baseball in 1989 for gambling and has been ineligible for induction to the Hall of Fame because of it. Rose insisted he bet on sports other than baseball.

In 1991, Philadelphia outfielder Len Dykstra was placed on probation for one year by then-commissioner Fay Vincent after testifying about taking part in high-stakes poker games.

Belle became the first major leaguer to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in a season in 1995, leading the Indians to their first American League pennant in 41 years. He is the Indians' career leader with 242 home runs and finished second in AL MVP voting in 1995 and third in 1996.

But he has been suspended five times in six-plus seasons and received the largest fine in major league history, $50,000 for berating a television reporter during the 1995 World Series. That punishment also included orders to undergo anger counseling.

In 1990, he took a leave of absence from baseball to undergo treatment for alcohol dependency.

The teen-ager's guardian, Sandra Abdul-Razzaaq of Cleveland Heights, is seeking $300,000 in damages in the lawsuit.

The teen-ager and three others were found delinquent for throwing eggs at Belle's home in a Halloween prank and ordered to perform community service. Belle was convicted of reckless operation of a motor vehicle and fined $100.