As the man who introduced commercial Bingo in 1961, chaired a company which had nearly 1,000 betting shops and six casinos, including some of the best-known casino names in London, I was pretty familiar with the gaming and gambling business.
I even ran what was, in a way, the forerunner of a lottery when, for eight years, I ran a game called Radio Bingo. To play, the public bought a card, as they do for the National Lottery, and the draw was made each evening in the Isle of Man casino, broadcast on Radio Luxembourg.
Instead of the modern-day equipment, we sold the game through hundreds of agents but the money was collected in much the same way as it is now. An amendment to the gaming laws eventually made the game illegal. Charities benefited by millions as we made no deductions.
In 1988, eight years before the Lottery started, I wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting the introduction of a national lottery, which I was quite capable of running with the experience I had. I quote: “To benefit the National Health Service” (at the time I was a council member of the Camberwell Health Authority, in particular Kings College Hospital). I served on this health authority for 15 years and this seemed to me to be the answer to helping the health service, particularly as I had already raised several million pounds for Kings and it was getting harder.
I received a reply on March 14 1988 – three weeks later. I still have the letter. I think it represents one of the few predictions Margaret Thatcher made which did not come right. I quote: “…however, a lottery on a national scale for the whole of the health service would be quite a different matter. I can see that many people would be quite glad to participate in a lottery to start with, but I rather wonder how long they would continue to do so. Experience elsewhere shows that lotteries are expensive to launch and even the most ambitious of them find that people lose interest after a while.”
She may still be right, of course. Lottery sales are falling and who is to say that the fall will not continue? Even allowing for them to fall, who is going to bother if they have the chance of winning 1m and above?
I just thought I would let you know that Richard Branson was not the first to offer a profit-free lottery. The lottery idea and its execution was thought up and, alas, rejected some years ago.