Head to head Is the National Lottery just harmless, fundraising fun? Certainly, says former winner Elaine Thompson. Far from it, argues lecturer David Runciman

"Playing the National Lottery is a bit of fun, like doing the pools or betting on a horse: if you win you win, if you don't you don't. Like everyone else, I used to dream about winning the lottery - but I never thought that I would. I was working at a garage in Basingstoke three days a week, and doing two days a week voluntary work at the local school. Since winning, my husband Derek and I have fulfilled the dream we've had since we got married in 1978 - to buy a holiday complex - although we didn't buy it immediately. We've only been here in Dorset for 11 weeks.

I paid my money every week, I played on every draw and I had my dreams just like everybody else. I was a loser too, I lost every week, but I didn't go crying that the government was taking all the money. My dream came true but if it hadn't, it wouldn't have been the end of the world. Of course not everybody will win, but look at how many millionaires it's made so far.

I don't think the Lottery encourages superstition and belief in fate at all, and I don't think it manipulates people - it's down to each individual whether they want to play or not. Even if you don't win, the good causes are still getting money to help with their projects. Maybe we all agree that the government should be providing for these, but they're not, and if we abolish the National Lottery then all those good causes won't get the money. At the end of the day it's just a bit of fun. Everybody has their dreams: if you don't have a dream, what have you got to strive for, whether you win the Lottery or not."

Elaine Thompson won pounds 2.7 million on the National Lottery in December 1995 (of which her brother received a third)


"The Lottery is successful because it preys upon our fears and anxieties. Remember the story of the man who forgot to play his numbers one week, believed, falsely, that he would have won and so killed himself? Just the kind of publicity Camelot could do without? Don't you believe it, this is exactly what keeps us playing those special 'lucky numbers' every week - look what could happen if we forget. The lottery is designed to make us more superstitious and to believe that the finger of fate could point at us. It's a huge attempt to extract money from people by making them believe they could win something that very few will. This is a state- run business, and with the setting-up of the new Special Project Fund, the government seems to be using the Lottery as a slush fund.

I have no problem with individual winners' good fortune but one has to remember that the money comes from somewhere. The people who provide the money for the winners and the good causes are the losers. Of course the implication is that no one loses because the money goes to charities, but that's no argument at all. The good causes are fine but they're not good enough to justify raising money from people who, on the whole, are the less well-off members of society.

People say you choose to play it, but it's a strange kind of choice when evidence suggests that almost everybody has. That fact could be taken as evidence that they are somehow compelled to do so. It works on me: I play sometimes and can feel the fear."

David Runciman is assistant lecturer in political theory at Cambridge University

Interviews by Fiona McClymont