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Maintain A Poker Face As You Read This Item

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Americans are a risk-taking people in many respects. It's a safe bet, then, that many of them would be attracted to gambling. And so they are, according to a new Gallup poll. Taking into account people's answers when queried about 11 forms of gambling, Gallup figures that 66 percent of adults—75 percent of men and 57 percent of women—gambled during the previous 12 months.

State lotteries are the form of gambling with the most participants, the survey finds: 49 percent of respondents bought a lottery ticket in the past 12 months. Thirty percent said they went to a casino during that period. Fifteen percent took part in an office pool, 14 percent played a video poker machine, 10 percent bet on pro sports and 6 percent bet on college sports. People who played bingo for money (5 percent) slightly outnumbered those who bet on horse races (4 percent). Nearly all of these genres of gambling had fewer adherents than in 1989, when Gallup conducted a similar poll on the topic. The big exception was casinos (up 10 percentage points). The sharpest decline since 1989 was in gambling on pro sports (off 12 percentage points). Internet gambling has done little so far to take up the slack from old-fashioned wagering: 1 percent of respondents said they gambled online in the previous 12 months.

Given the importance of religion in the U.S., one might expect religious strictures to restrain the incidence of gambling (apart from the occasional round of church-basement bingo). And, in fact, church-goers are less apt than their heathen compatriots to gamble. Even among respondents who go to religious services on a weekly basis, though, a majority said they gambled during the past 12 months (52 percent). The figure rose to 69 percent among those who said they attend services "nearly weekly" or monthly and to 74 percent among those who seldom or never go. Are more-educated people less likely than others to gamble? Up to a point. Respondents with post-graduate education had a below-average incidence of gambling (58 percent). But those with a four-year college degree were more likely to have gambled (71 percent) than those with some college (67 percent) or with a high school diploma or less (66 percent). Finally, political moderates need to get their thrills someplace, which explains why they're more likely to gamble (70 percent of them did in the past 12 months) than either liberals (65 percent) or conservatives (63 percent).