He is only a pinstriped lawyer, workers downtown start addressing him as "almighty high commissioner." He is the guy who prepares their weekly office football pool, and he takes pride in the popularity of this nonprofit work.

There are countries others like him, sending photo copies of team names and point spreads - the "Las Vegas line" - drifting into brief cases and purses and lunch pails as reliably as the leaves' falling.

The friendly pool is a form of amateur sports gambling described even by some law-enforcement officials as "a great American institution." It is known among its practitioners as a fine social leveler and mixer, a promoter of family togetherness, enlivener of television weekends and "a lot of pleasure for a buck."

Pools flourish in the offices of Congress (the body that made a felony in federal buildings), in federal agencies, in some police squadrooms, in buses bound for weekend games, in neighborhood bars and, by all indications, in almost any spot where more than a couple of fans are gathered.

"Psychologically," the commissioner explained, "Washington is a football town, and a competitive town, generally. People who can't pay $12 to go to a game can still have a stake in all that for $1 a week by betting in the office pool."

Players like to keep their pools low profile and can become emotional about the discussing them with the press. "You mess up my pool. I'll come after you," the commission said.

Some bureaucrats have grumbled among themselves about memos from the "Georgia Baptist" Carter administration reminding everyone that pools are no-no in federal buildings. But old hands shrug and explain that such edicts are routine with every new administration. Even otherwise straight-arrow, byt-eh-book civil servants, they say, ignore them.

"It's a social thing, a bit of friendly competition between guys too out of shape to compete on the field anymore," according to a gravelly-coiced GS-15 in the Department of Transportation who used to run pools and still bets in them.

In constrast to various professional gambling operations, which also abound, he emphasized that in the friendly office pools, nobody profits except the winner. "It's sort of like the car pool: What goes in, comes back out."

And as often as not, the winner is "somebody who doesn't know a damn thing about the game," he added.

Pools vary, but the mimeographed or Xeroxed sheets typically list the teams playing in each game and the number of points by which the bookmakers hope to attract an equal amount of money on each side of the "spread" as put out by Jimmy the Greek and other expert oddsmakers. Each player bets $1 makes his picks and the one with the most correct for the week takes the pot - usually $20 to $10. There also can be an overall winner at the end of the season.

"It's usually the guys who think they know something about football against the secretaries," said John Gaughan, congressional relations officer at DOT. He recalled the glee of one secretary "over the fact that we (men) would pore over performance records in the evenings and try to make informed decisions and then she would bet on the sentimental favorite, and win!"

Gaughan lamented the passing of the pool from his office this season, apparently because of staff transfers. "We just don't have the sports nut with the time it takes to put these things together."

A Capitol Hill secretary who types up the pool for her office was last season's top winner, "I try to think it was because I'm a football buff," she said. "But if I'm honest, I have to say it's mostly hunch. I'm not doing all that well this year."

This year she is competing with her won sons, ages 6, 14, and 16, who play on school or club teams. She talked the staff into letting the elder boys place their own bet separately from hers.

"They were ecstatic," she said, "We watch the games together on Sundays and compare notes and, well it's just a fun time."

It's the fun; not the winning, that's important, according to a self-described habitual loser who participates in an office pool.

It is not unusual, he says, for a person to win $100 on a charger bus pool between a bar or a club and a weekend game somewhere "and then lose it all afterward buying drinks for the crowd."

Law enforcement officials for the District and the federal government don't try to enforce the laws against such betting, they say, unless there are specific complaints. They recall no football pool arrests.

Technically, playing a pool in a federal building is a felony offense the same as the numbers racket and can cost anyone caught at it up to $1,000 in fines and/or up to three years in jail. Outside the federal buildings here, it is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $1,000 or a year in jail, according to Lt. Jean Newville, of the D.C. police, gambling branch.

"Periodically, we luck into a crap game or a card game with a lot of money, or we move in on numbers runners when we are aware of them (around federal buildings)," said Rich F. Sanske of the Federal Protective Service. "But our main problem is theft, and that's what we concentrate on."

About a year ago, a secretary at the Civil Rights Commission reportedly was threatened with arrest when she invited three visiting federal agents to join the office pool. After some consultations with the U.S. attorney's office here, however, she was let off with a reprimand.