DEAR DATA DOG: Who should I bet on to win the NCAA tournament this month?

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Ah, March Madness is upon us once again. And according to, legal betting on the college basketball contest now surpasses the amount wagered on the NFL's January exercise in mass tedium, the Super Bowl. Throw in all the illegal bets made with bookies and on private wagers, and it adds up to an estimated $4.5 billion laid out on the annual round robin.

Much of the betting revolves around sports pools and water coolers: A 1999 Society for Human Resource Management survey found a lot of sports gambling in the workplace ( Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents bet on Super Bowl pools, 55 percent on regular season football pools, and 39 percent combined their dough with other workers in order to throw it away in one big bunch on lottery tickets. And 30 percent admitted succumbing to March Madness by betting on pools for the NCAA tournament.

Many college athletes like to gamble as well. A survey last year by the University of Michigan asked college players about their gambling habits. Forty-five percent of male athletes copped to gambling on sports and 7.1 percent of them admitted they had either bet on their own games, leaked information, or even fixed a game in which they played. Still, among student athletes overall, casino gambling is the most popular (45 percent).

High school kids seem to suffer less from such mania than the big guys on campus. Only 10 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds bet on sports pools, according to the National Opinion Research Center (www.norc. The 1999 NORC Gambling Impact and Behavior Study was conducted for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, a body charged by Congress with studying, among other things, the growth of online gambling; the effects of gambling on people, their families, their jobs, and the economy in general; the relationship between gambling and crime; and the state of pathological gambling ( One can only hope that Congress someday decides to study pathological commission creating.

For 16- and 17-year-olds, so-called "private games of skill" (the majority of which are card games) are the most popular form of gambling, at 28.2 percent; by contrast only 11.5 percent of those 18 and over report such wagers.

Thirteen percent of kids play the lottery, as opposed to more than half of adults over 18 (51.8 percent). And according to a 1999 Gallup poll, teens are more upbeat about their gambling skills than adults: 61 percent said they were ahead of the previous year, whereas just 26 percent of adults made the same claim (

You might think that such optimism in kids argues for better math education. Then again, it might be due to the fact that while adults are buying 17-million-to-1 odds in state lotteries, their children are betting on their own poker-playing abilities, with odds that are a lot more in their favor.

For adults, casino gambling runs a distant second to the lottery (51.8 percent to 25.7 percent), according to NORC's "Analysis of Casino Survey" for the Gambling Commission.

Despite the stereotype, the track-suit-clad retiree pumping quarters into a slot machine is not your typical casino gambler. Those 65 and older represent just 23.3 percent of all casino gamblers, the lowest of any group 21 and over. The greatest percentage of casino contributors fall into the 31-to-50-year-old bracket, nosing out those 51 to 64 everywhere except at tribal casinos, where the latter outnumber the former by almost 5 percent. Forty-five percent of all players gambled a hundred bucks or less a day; just over 22 percent gambled between $100 and $500 a day.

NORC's Gambling Impact and Behavior Study was the first national survey on the subject since 1975, and there have been some dramatic changes over the past quarter century. One of the most startling results concerns bingo: While the game has maintained a firm hold on 6 percent to 8 percent of those 65 and older during that period, its attraction for all other age groups has fallen dramatically. The startling fact is not that only 7 percent of those aged 17 to 24 claim to be bingo players today, but that in 1975 the number was as high as 27 percent.

Oh, and to answer your original question: This year's big March Madness winner - like last year's - will be your bookie.

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