Dear Camelot

Everybody loves a winner, but maybe they'd love a loser just as much. S o why not liven up the lottery by adding a few short straws to the weekly draws?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You have arranged for the winner of your lottery to receive counselling. Eighteen million in the bank and it's as if there's been a bereavement. The argument about concealing his identity makes it seem as though he is involved in a particularly n asty court case. And now he is reported to be so distraught at the attention he is receiving that he wishes he could give the money back.

Congratulations! The lottery now looks like becoming less tedious. You have, unwittingly, tapped a vein of misery and argument, and I think that if we are to remain interested in your weekly draw, you must capitalise on this.

Imagine, please, a lottery with built-in penalties. To relieve the tedium of the conventional draw, the organisers have arranged that for every 30 lucky numbers, there is another that is unlucky. For 30 who rake in the cash, one pays a fine.

That is the theme of "The Lottery in Babylon", my favourite short story in Laby-rinths by JL Borges. Pretty soon the losers refuse to pay up and fines are therefore replaced by prison sentences. This makes the draw especially exciting: will players receive untold riches or be sent down for three months by the Babylonian equivalent of Noel Edmonds?

Those too financially challenged to buy tickets complain that they have no chance of winning. The poor sods can't even lose. The organisers then declare that all citizens are automatically contestants - for free - and that payments in kind are substituted for actual cash. A winner might receive a sudden promotion or a nocturnal visit from an unsuspected lover.

The penalties are beefed up, too - the narrator of the story has lost a tip of a finger. Or the forfeit might just be a missprinqzt (sic) in the book a loser is reading. For further details, Camelot, you will have to read Labyrinths. Ask last week's winner to buy you a copy; he can afford three million of them.

If we are all to go down the pan with your rotten lottery, this is clearly the example to follow. It should rapidly reverse the decline in the viewing figures of the televised draw. First the winners be will announced. Then the balls will start spinning again - for the losers. The presenter of this section will be carefully chosen for lack of charisma: ie, the job description has John Selwyn Gummer written all over it. Smirking happily, he will declare that the penalty this week is: "Life impr i sonment!" Fanfare and applause from the studio audience.

Other unlucky players will find that their personal income tax doubles overnight, or that their televisions are reprogrammed so as to receive only Sky One.

You will need to change the system slightly so that contestants give their names when buying a ticket. This they will be perfectly happy to do - never underestimate the suicidal tendencies of a nation that is prepared to vote four, if not five times on the trot for a Conservative government.

And don't worry about tracking down the losers. the Sun will certainly pay 10 grand for their neighbours to shop them.

Yours helpfully,

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