Scrap the lottery, say critics, as prices double

Carried away: has mainstream gambling helped or damaged the UK? © Adrian Brooks

Lotto ticket prices are doubling this weekend. The National Lottery has raised £30 billion for sport, charity and the arts – but has it made Britain a nation of gamblers?

Fully 50% of adults take part at least once a month, and since 1994 it has been an accepted part of British life. But the National Lottery operator’s decision to raise the price of a ticket this week, and alter the way the prizes are distributed, has reawakened a debate about gambling and good causes.

Most reports have focused on whether Camelot, the company which has run the lottery since its launch in 1994, is right to promise bigger jackpots before it has found out whether the higher ticket price will mean fewer people play.

Any under-16 is banned from playing the lottery anyway, due to strict laws that regulate gambling. But the Daily Express suggested on Thursday that millions of adults were planning to boycott this week’s Saturday draw because of the new prices – omitting to mention that the Health Lottery, a rival operation, was started by its owner Richard Desmond.

MPs criticised Camelot first for an ‘unfair’ price increase, then for a £15 million advertising campaign to help maintain ticket sales.

But others suggested the public were being taken advantage of, because too many play the lottery without appreciating the appalling odds: if you buy a ticket for Saturday’s draw at the start of the week, you are more likely to die before finding out if you got lucky than you are to win. With retailers keeping 5% of the price of tickets (6% on scratchcards) and earning around £8,000 every year from it, they have no motivation to make the public more aware of the low probability of a win. Nor, of course, is it in the interest of National Lottery managers.

Those who opposed the lottery when it was set up repeated their objection: that projects receiving lottery funding should be paid for out of general taxation.

Everyone’s a winner?

Camelot UK’s managing director, Andy Duncan, said yesterday that the lottery was ‘very healthy,’ apart from the need to ‘refresh’ Lotto. He was talking about the state of the business, but many more will agree that this weekly ritual helps nourish the nation. Among other things, its £30 billion donations have gone towards helping Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes win, keeping down the entrance fees at museums and galleries, and providing education, health and green projects with money.

Introducing the lottery dealt a hammer blow to the UK’s wellbeing, others retort. The so-called harmless Saturday flutter is part of an increased acceptance of gambling, which can become addictive, not only depriving people of their wealth but also wrecking their lives. Rather than tinkering with prices and prizes, it should simply be scrapped.

You Decide

  1. ‘Forget the good causes and just increase the prizes.’ Should this happen?  
  2. ‘People only ever want to ban the sins of others.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, make a list of how you would like money raised by the lottery to be spent.
  2. Calculate the probability of winning a lottery in which there are fifty numbers and participants must pick the correct five in any order.

Some People Say...

“The lottery is a tax on the stupid.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t play any lottery games or gamble.
That’s probably very wise: it is potentially addictive if you get too involved. If you are worried about it, or have questions about types of gambling, look up bigdeal.org.uk, which gives advice to teenagers curious or worried about it. Some people who are particularly good at maths understand probability so well that they have a flair for it, and that makes playing some gambling games attractive. Others just become obsessed with making money without effort, even when they keep losing.
Sounds grim. But the lottery surely isn’t serious?
Not necessarily. But people who have less money tend to be more likely to buy lottery tickets, perhaps because even a small win would help them. So those who oppose it have called it ‘a tax on the poor’.

Word Watch

Camelot
This company has been awarded three successive licences to operate the UK’s National Lottery. It is now owned by Canada’s teachers’ pension fund, a very rich international investment body.
Strict laws
The lottery operator is awarded its contract and then monitored by the National Lottery Commission, which has now merged with the Gambling Commission, another taxpayer-funded body that regulates all commercial gambling. Among the restrictions on gambling, companies are forbidden from marketing to under-16s or associating themselves with youth culture.
Those who opposed
The Churches, for instance, did not want the National Lottery to be introduced. In 2002, responding to increased profits for Camelot and larger payouts, the Bishop of Oxford said: ‘It’s a national obsession, with big prizes creating a fantasy or myth that people’s lives will be dramatically changed. Therefore there is a spiritual damage being done to the country.’

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