Gambling is fast becoming a way of life for many of us. Over the past month, I've seen myself play my wife's dream number for a week's running in the Pennsylvania state lottery. I've bet on some professional teams in a football pool. I've bought five tickets to a Monte Carlo fund-raiser for my kid's high school wrestling team. I've monopolized a phalanx of slot machines at the Park Regency Casino in Atlantic City for two straight hours. I've risked $10 on raffle tickets for a carload of cheer to help a suburban fire company replace an ancient pumper. I've driven my mother and her little old lady friends to the biggest bingo game in the South Jersey archdiocese. I've joines my buddies in a friendly little poker game.

I don't think of myself as a compulsive gambler -- just a very social one. I'm not pilfering my kids' piggy banks for gasoline money. Now am I waiting every morning for the local loan company to open its doors so I can get a quickie loan to buy vittles for the dependents I list on my 1040 form. In many of the above gabling examples, I was taking a chance for charity, or at least some of the gambling proceeds would go to senior citizens. cMy loss was to be some needy person's gain, or so I rationalized. Only the football pool, the monthly poker game and my frenzied debut with the one-arm banditos were motivated by sheer greed and the need for some diversion.

None of this wagering took place in any dirty corner candy store. I walked up no fire escape to a second-floor pool palace to put my money where my hunch was. I never had to say, "Little Joey sent me." Everything was nice and clean and legal. No bookies. That's the part that scares me the most: nice, clean, legal.

I never gambled as a young man starting out in life. There were no superfluous coins of the realm around, earmarked for risk-taking. I shot no craps in the cul-de-sac of South Philadelphia. Usually, I was the paid sentinel who kept an eagle eye peeled for the red devil police wagons tht might accidently happen upon an impromptu floating dice game. I pitched no dimes against the white marble row-house facades. My parents encouraged no intimate liaison with the neighborhood number-writer, who, along with the door-to-door insurance man, was permitted to enter your home without knocking or announcing himself.

Horses to me pulled mail wagons, delivered milk and carried chunks of ice to the icebox owners in the neighborhood. I did follow the nags on occasion, but only to obtain the fecund source of fertilizer for my pop's back-yard victory garden.

I was dumb enough to believe that a handicap meant either a marked speech impediment or the ravages of the dreaded polio that did a real job on some of my friends. The only odds I considered were those neatly stacked against me to amount to something worthwhile. Gambling had no place in my life's survival package.

Casino gambling in Las Vegas never claimed me as one of its victims: 2,500 miles was sufficient distance. I could afford a junket to the high rollers' mecca only once every seven years. The travel expenses and gambling losses were budgeted for, fully anticipated and hardly missed. Las Vegas was a vacation trip first (snapshots, et al.), a gambling whirlwind second.

Casino gambling in the nearby saltwater taffy town, on the othe hand, has me both a little apprehensive and introspective. Atlantic City is just too damn close for comfort.

The titillating action in the Hollywood splendor is beginning to entice me away from the Betamax and cinema classics I had planned to get me through the doleful months of winter. The glowing family hearth, pet pipe and obedient German-shepherd-at-my-side bit is losing a little of its traditional, magnetic hold on this basic family man. During TV commercials, I occasionally visualize the flashing winning lights and cacophonous clanging bells of the triple bars, spitting out shiny Susan B. Anthony dollars.

Among the 35 million who are supposed to be within a three-hour drive of the seashore casinos, there must be countless people like me who feel the progressive urge to gamble and are worried about it. Many people have a psychological need for a recreational intensity equal to the intensity of their occupations or their basic hyper-metabolic rate to really relax and unwind. Winning appears secondary to the need for a little action. Casinos are peerless at supplying around-the-clock animation.

Whenever that urge to break the bank sufaces, I force myself to bring to mind the degenerate gamblers in the old neighborhood. These born losers would bet on whether the local trolley car passed our corner at 20th and Miffling streets would have a City Hall destination sign or a Front and Market Street one. It was feast or famine for them and for the loved ones who were unlucky enough to depend on them for survival. Compulsive gamblers brought only uncertainty and insecurity into their family orbit; they worried relatives to death.

Cold turkey is the only way to go. I have resolved this year to stop all forms of gambling -- everything from poker with the guys to driving Mom to her bingo games. Atlantic City won't get my hard-earned bucks. No, sir. The next time I dream a hot number, I'll place a fiver on it in the empty wine jug I have reserved for all state lottery action. I'll take no more chances on raffle tickets to support a worthy cause. I'll give the money up front, from the heart, not in the hope of winning a truckload of firewater.

I'm boycotting A.C. because of this fundamental, fatal flaw I sense lying within me that might be my undoing. I'm now taking my chances unearthing buried coins under the boardwalk and discovering diamonds in abundance on Cape May with the sophisticated metal detector my kids got their old man as a therapeutic Christmas gift. It might help -- and I dig the odds.