"The Super Bowl is the day of the highest gambling activity in the whole year," according to Msgr. Joseph Dunne, president of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling in New York. "The gambler, more appropriately the compulsive gambler, sees it as the day to go all out, the day of last resort, the last opportunity to get even."

How much money will be wagered on Sunday's game is only a guess, but the amount may well be in the billions. Nearly 20 percent of the adult population puts something on the Super Bowl, according to a Gallup poll commissioned by Gaming and Wagering Business Magazine in New York.

About $177 billion is bet annually in this country, illegally and legally, on all events, according to the magazine.

"Putting money on the Super Bowl makes it a much more exciting experience," says Veterans Administration psychiatrist Robert Custer. "It's like betting on the Kentucky Derby or the World Series. We identify with the champions in these events and through gambling we participate.

"There's an element of bragging about picking the winner, but you don't hear from them when they lose. The impact is 10 times greater for the compulsive gambler, whose ego is more intensely tied to it."