Camelot did well to get the National Lottery going so speedily and effectively. One wonders, however, whether among the criteria applied in granting its franchise was a capacity for deep disingenuousness.
One is driven to such uncharitable thoughts by the announcement last week of a midweek draw in addition to Saturday. “A second draw,” said a spokesman, “is a natural progression that most lotteries develop as a way of keeping players interested.” Is it indeed? If such a progression is inherent in lotteries, how powerful and prolonged might it be? Is there room for a third draw? Would resistance to a daily draw be to fly in the face of nature?
For those suspicious of its first argument, Camelot offered an alternative. Without a second draw, it said, reaching for its handkerchief and dabbing a dry eye, countless good causes would suffer. At this, only a strong stomach could resist the urge to rush for the nearest receptacle for a good old heave-ho.
Last year, Camelot made a profit of 77m. True, it incurred the costs of setting the thing up, and there is day-to-day administration. That said, the millions that roll in are quite disproportionate to any expertise or effort applied by the company. Were I in its position, I too would be dismayed to see public gullibility waning. But it had to happen. From the outset it was inevitable that a growing number of people would eventually realise that odds of 14 million to one against winning the jackpot are unattractive; that odds of 100 to one against winning 10 (or, more accurately, 9) are not such as to invite a bet on a horse, so why waste it on the Lottery?; and that scratchcards are not a genuine gamble but are fixed, just like fruit machines.
Camelot claims that it always knew there would be a diminution of interest and that a second draw was part of its plans from the beginning. But what happens when people tire of the midweek draw, as surely they must?
The Lottery is an undoubted success. Indeed, it has surpassed expectations. Camelot ought to be grateful for reaping a bonanza. Instead its determination to whip up a frenzy of interest in a product that is settling in to an equilibrium between supply and demand (a demand adjusted by experience) lingers like a bad odour, especially when suffused by appeals to the laws of nature and the claims of good causes.
But there’s always been something phony about the language used by the proponents of the Lottery. Who, for example, apart from Camelot and Mrs Bottomley, talks of “playing” the Lottery? People have a “go” on the lottery, or, more honestly, a “bet”. A lottery, by definition, defies calculation. One no more plays the Lottery than one plays a ham sandwich.
Again, Mrs Bottomley is fond of talking about the millions who “enjoy” playing the Lottery. Anyone who has observed the faces of punters in a betting shop, or in a casino, or around a poker table knows that of all the adjectives applied to gambling, “joyful” is the least apposite. The joy is in winning, and since the overwhelming majority of the millions who bet on the Lottery each week are losers, where is their delight?
For most, the Lottery is a fantasy. It holds out the remotest hope of the freedom and independence that only great wealth can secure, and weekly it dashes that hope. Now it will do it twice weekly, and great will be the joy.
But Mrs Bottomley is a politician. She it was, you may recall, who, during her previous incarnation as Health Secretary, prevailed upon Marks & Spencer to allow her to shop alone behind closed doors in its Marble Arch flagship store, giving as her reason the fact that she feared being mobbed by adoring wellwishers and admirers. How ungallant that made us feel – we who suspected that, had she been spotted by, say, the Friends of Barts, she might have become the first female to be strangled with her own knickers before she had even paid for them.
Politicians and lottery organisers use words to conceal meaning. We journalists seek to do the opposite, but we do not always succeed. Looking through the Ceefax headlines the other day, I was astonished to see “Murdoch Used to Feed Ferrets”. What a scoop! To think that the old rascal should meet an end still more bizarre than that of his rival Maxwell, who was used to feed fish, or would have been had his vast corpse not proved unsubmersible and popped to the surface. With trembling fingers I called up the page and was bitterly disappointed to find that Rupert once fed the ferrets at his family home, this “biographical gem” having been let slip by his son, Lachlan, during a speech in Australia.
It’s not much of a gem, though I suppose some future biographer might discern a link between the youthful Murdoch’s feeding of half-tamed polecats and the adult man’s employing of them on The Sun. But whatever you may think of Murdoch, his motives are plain and his methods are open. He is out to maximise his power, wealth, and influence across the globe and he avoids tax with consummate skill. If he ran the Lottery, we’d know exactly where we were.