As Young Adults Drink to Win, Marketers Join In By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN PHILADELPHIA - The bar is packed, the floor is wet, and dozens of glassy-eyed young people are squeezed around tables trying to lob Ping-Pong balls into cups of beer. It is the final round of a beer pong championship, sponsored by a maker of portable beer pong tables, and all across the bar, as one team scores points, the other happily guzzles beer. "It's awesome," said Chris Shannon, 22, a senior at Drexel University here. "If you win, you win. If you lose, you drink. There's no negative." Drinking games have been around since Dionysus. But a whole new industry has taken off around them, making the games more popular, more intense and more dangerous, according to college administrators who say the games are just thin cover for binge drinking. Some colleges have tried to ban the games on campus, but that has just driven them elsewhere. Many bars now hold beer pong tournaments like the one in Philadelphia, and some even have leagues and keep baseball-like statistics. Urban Outfitters stocks a popular beer pong kit called Bombed and boxed sets of rules for other games. In January, thousands of players are expected at the first World Series of Beer Pong, sponsored by a beer pong accessories company and held on the outskirts of - where else? - Las Vegas. This past summer, Anheuser-Busch unveiled a game it calls Bud Pong. The company, which makes Budweiser, is promoting Bud Pong tournaments and providing Bud Pong tables, balls and glasses to distributors in 47 markets, including college towns like Oswego, N.Y., and Clemson, S.C. Bud Pong may soon expand into more markets, said Francine Katz, a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. "It's catching on like wildfire," Ms. Katz said. "We created it as an icebreaker for young adults to meet each other." Beer companies like Anheuser-Busch have made promoting "responsible drinking" a matter of corporate philosophy, partly as an answer to criticism that they market to youth. But Ms. Katz said Bud Pong was not intended for underage drinkers because promotions were held in bars, not on campuses. And it does not promote binge drinking, she said, because official rules call for water to be used, not beer. The hope is that those on the sidelines enjoy a Bud. On the ground, though, it may be a different story. At the Esso Club near Clemson University, Jessica Twilley, a bartender, said she had worked at several Bud Pong events and had "never seen anyone playing with water." "It's always beer," Ms. Twilley said. "It's just like any other beer pong." When told about the Esso Club, Ms. Katz responded that her information was that the club used water, and that distributors were instructed to "conduct retail promotions responsibly." Budweiser is not the only brand using games to sell alcohol. One recent Miller campaign featured spin the bottle, and its distributors have promoted beer pong tournaments as well, although the company says it has no corporate strategy to market the game. Henry Wechsler, director of the College Alcohol Study at the Harvard School of Public Health, said he was "aghast that companies who posture themselves as promoting responsible drinking promote drinking games, which by their nature involve heavy drinking." As for the Bud Pong water defense, Dr. Wechsler said: "Why would alcohol companies promote games that involve drinking water? It's preposterous." Drinking games seem to be most popular among college students, and according to four recent academic studies that surveyed more than 6,000 students nationwide, 50 percent to 80 percent play them. Some games are based on luck and revolve around cards and dice. A few are simply organized binges, like "Edward 40-Hands," in which players tape 40-ounce malt liquor bottles to their hands. Others, like flippy cup and beer pong, take a little skill. In beer pong, each team stands at the end of a table in front of a triangle of cups partially filled with beer. Players pitch the ball into the other team's cups. When a player sinks the ball, the other team must chug the beer and remove the cup from the table. When a side runs out of cups, it loses. Students say they enjoy the games because they are a fun way to compete, socialize and drink, and often the only consequence of playing is a hangover. But alcohol prevention experts say the games do sometimes lead to alcohol poisoning and drunken-driving crashes and may increase the chance of a woman being sexually assaulted. Thomas J. Johnson, a psychologist at Indiana State University, has published seven articles on student alcohol use in peer-reviewed journals since 1998 and has studied thousands of students who play drinking games. He found that 44 percent of men who played said that they did so to sexually manipulate other players. Twenty percent said they had done things after playing a drinking game that could be defined as sexual assault. In many games, the more you lose, the more you drink, which leads to losing more and drinking more, a cycle that can spiral out of control. "When you play drinking games, you're not really in charge of how much you drink," said Brian Borsari, a psychologist at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. "Your drinking is at the whim of other players, which can be very dangerous, especially if you're trying to fit in." Charles R. Pollock, vice president for student affairs at Bucknell University, said many students were taking their cues from increasingly outrageous Web sites. Drinking game sites feature rules, merchandise and pictures of wild parties, with some students naked and others hugging the toilet. "It's a race to be the most extreme," Mr. Pollock said. Four years ago, Bucknell banned drinking games on campus. But last year, the university changed its approach and dropped the ban as part of an effort to encourage students to take more personal responsibility for their behavior. Kenyon College in Ohio did the same. "It became apparent the ban wasn't going to work," said Shawn Presley, Kenyon's director of public affairs. "And we didn't want to drive the games underground." But more and more colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania, Fairfield University in Connecticut and Georgetown, are sticking to strict policies that punish students for playing. "We didn't want to be silent on an issue that really bothers us," said Todd A. Olson, Georgetown's dean of students. Illinois has tried to prohibit drinking games in bars, and this August, the Jersey Shore town of Belmar banned drinking games outdoors after residents complained. Still, drinking games have become a staple of many young people's social lives, essentially the warm-up, or preparty, to a long night. On a recent Friday evening at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Kyle Field, 22, and his friends were watching television in an off-campus house when the clock struck 8:30. "Beer thirty!" someone yelled. "Let's drink!" The quiet gathering suddenly morphed into a symphony of beer-swilling action: one student pulled out a table, another pumped the keg, another filled cups. The group split into two teams of five, including some women, and started playing flippy cup, a relay race in which players gulp down an inch of beer in a cup and then try to flip the cup over so it sticks upside down. Mr. Field, who was wearing a T-shirt that read collegedrunkfest.com (which lists rules for more than 200 drinking games), warned a struggling teammate, "Don't be the weak link!" After he won his game and drifted off to the bars, Mr. Field confided, "The point of drinking games is to get as lit as possible." But, he added, friends make sure no one drinks too much or chugs alone. The description of this scene distressed the university's chancellor, Walter V. Wendler. "If someone could show me one positive benefit of these games, I'd host one tonight," Dr. Wendler said. "But there isn't. It's a way to abuse alcohol. Period." Beer pong seems to be the drinking game du jour. Legend has it that the game, also known for some reason as Beirut, started years ago at a Dartmouth College fraternity party. Now bars hold matches every week, often working with beer distributors who help advertise the events and supply the prizes. While the Miller Brewing Company has no companywide campaign for beer pong, its distributors are getting in on the action. Aimar McQueeney, a sales representative for a Miller distributor in Smyrna, Ga., said Miller supplied her with prizes and "Miller girl" models for a four-day beer pong tournament in Atlanta in May, which drew hundreds of people. "It's the perfect demographic," Ms. McQueeney said. "It's mostly college kids pounding pitchers of beer." Coors Brewing Company says it frowns on beer pong. "The game is generally associated with overconsumption," said Kabira Hatland, a spokeswoman, though she acknowledges Coors distributors might be promoting the game, too. The recent tournament in Philadelphia was sponsored by Bing Bong, a company that sells portable beer pong tables for $150. In the past year, Bing Bong has sold more than 2,000. "It was something a lot of people needed," said Tom Schmidt, the 27-year-old chief executive. He added that he wanted to turn the game into a socially acceptable barroom sport, like darts. "I realize that beer pong was born out of binge drinking," Mr. Schmidt said. "But I want to make sure it's not synonymous anymore with binge drinking. Without the proper rules and regulations, we could get banned."