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If you look hard enough for signs of hope, you can usually find them.

Two recent news stories appeal, in a perverse sort of way, to my appetite for good news. First was a report that said producers of some of the game shows that have recently proliferated on television in the wake of the success of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" are worried that too many might end up killing all of them.

That's the first bit of good news.

I keep wishing that rating organizations like Nielsen, which rank television shows based on the number of people who watch, would come up with a different system. It would rank television shows, not by the number of people who watch, but by the cumulative intelligence of the viewers. I suspect the collective intellect of game-show audiences would not put any of them at the top of the ratings chart.

If a show had 10 million viewers with an average IQ of 100, it would rank behind a show that only had 8 million viewers with an average IQ of 135. The show with the most intelligent audience would rank No. 1 and be able to charge most for its commercials on my somewhat elitist theory that the smartest people usually make the most money and are, therefore, better able to buy what is advertised.

The second hopeful sign is that New York Gov. George E. Pataki is pushing to open up his state to gambling casinos. At present, New York is one of about 30 states that allow so-called "Indian" casinos but do not allow others. Just 11 states allow casinos not called "Indian" or "tribal." There is official lottery gambling in 37 states.

I hope Pataki gets gambling casinos in New York. I hope every state gets them. I'd like to see gambling casinos open everywhere because when that happens, like the quiz shows, they'll all go out of business.

It is grossly unfair for one state to have gambling casinos siphoning off money from residents of a neighboring state who might live just a few miles across the border. In New York, you regularly see buses loaded with people who live there, headed for Donald Trump's casino in Atlantic City, N.J. If New York had its own casinos, they could save themselves the bus ride and lose their money at home.

The idiocy of government-approved gambling infuriates me, and I'm getting madder because the gambling business is growing. The amount gambled legally is up close to 2,000 percent in 25 years. In 1997, the operators of American gambling casinos made $50 billion. There are now 260 casinos on Indian reservations alone. The day is coming when there will be one casino for every Indian.

Every dollar that goes to the operators of gambling casinos doesn't go to the people who make a legitimate product or provide a service we need. Indian casinos suck off huge amounts of money from our economy and give back nothing but benefits for a few Indians so gambling proponents can point to this when challenged.

When the U.S. government sets out to tax its citizens, it demands the most from the richest among us. If you're rich, you may not like that, but you have to concede that it makes sense. The rich can take some consolation from the fact that lotteries get some of it back for them by sticking it to the poor. Of all the people who buy lottery tickets, most make $10,000 a year or less.

One of the best things state lotteries do is provide a place for the poor to spend their welfare checks. For the states, the money goes out of one pocket and into another.

If Nielsen figures a way to rate television audiences by their IQs, they might come up with a statistic showing that the dumbest people are the best customers the casinos have.

Tribune Media Services

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