McCain posts NCAA contest

WASHINGTON -- His record was a respectable 31-17 last week, but this isn't just another guy hoping to get lucky in the office pool for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

It's Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, who once tried to prohibit Nevada sports books from taking bets on March Madness, college football games and any other amateur sporting event.

For the second straight year, McCain's presidential campaign Web site includes not only the senator's predictions for the tournament but encourages visitors to make picks with him.

The site is http://www.

A first-place finish entitles a contestant to a "McCain Fleece" jacket. Second place is good for a McCain hat. Third place garners a McCain lapel pin.

It's free to play. Participants also are asked to volunteer their phone numbers and indicate whether they would like to help McCain get elected.

Calls and e-mails to McCain's campaign on Wednesday were not returned.

Last year, McCain said predictions on his Web site are not the same as bets placed at Nevada sports books.

"I think there's a great deal of difference between setting up a Web site -- just like there's office pools all over America that have no benefit to the person" organizing the game, McCain said.

The legislation he sponsored in 2000 and 2001, McCain added, "said that everything is legal as long as someone doesn't gain from it."

McCain is picking North Carolina to win this year's tournament. His pick for the other finalist, Connecticut, was eliminated in the first round.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama also has posted his brackets and went 32-16 in the opening rounds. Obama has North Carolina beating UCLA in the final.

Currently, nothing is pending in Congress that would impose a sports betting ban.

It is not clear, if he is elected president, whether McCain would continue predicting the outcome of NCAA games on his Web site or if he would sign legislation to outlaw betting at Nevada sports books on college games.

Arnie Wexler, a counselor for compulsive gamblers in Bradley Beach, N.J., said McCain's Web site on the tournament surprised him.

"I thought he was a prohibitionist on gambling," Wexler said. "The promotion of this Final Four ... and these other gambling Web sites is not fun and games. About 95 percent of people who gamble don't have a problem, but for the other 5 percent -- their lives are being destroyed."

Contact reporter Tony Batt at tbatt@ or (202) 783-1760.