Private Investor: I'm putting my money on the gambling habit

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As I'm sure you know, there are people out there who are so fond of gambling that they'd have a bet with you about which drop of rain might run down a window first. It's one way to break up a boring railway journey, I suppose, but it illustrates a wider point. You can bet on anything.

For better or worse (possibly both), Britain is due for a huge boost to its gambling habit. If the pools and the National Lottery weren't enough, we're going to get more and more online poker, relaxations on fruit machines and betting shops and, of course, all those casinos that the Government will soon be licensing, with the Millennium Dome a possible site for the "super casino".

I missed the boat when it came to the casino shares listed on the stock market, which have shown some very healthy rises thanks to takeover interest from US groups. But I've at least made a respectable paper profit on my William Hill shares. My Sportingbet holding, one of those online poker firms, was bought and sold, thankfully, at a decent profit before the current slump in the sector.

Anyway, when it comes to gambling, if that's what it is, I prefer the stock market to the casino or the bookies.

The latest gambling outfit looking for your money is called Weather Lottery PLC. A recent listing on AIM, it organises lotteries for charities and, I believe, the Conservative Party. You can also play online and nominate the beneficiary who will receive a proportion of your stake.

The idea is that you predict (bet on) temperatures in various corners of the world. The last digit of the figures generated are the winning numbers. So a draw might be generated as follows: Corfu (3); Istanbul (4); Tenerife (0); Innsbruck (0); Edinburgh (5); and Stockholm (1). It's basically a game of chance, but since when did that ever stop anyone having a bet?

If you fancy a go, it costs £1, with a top prize of £10,000 for matching all six numbers, but you only get £2 for matching three numbers. The chance of winning the jackpot is 200,000 to 1 over a week, while the probability of matching three numbers is 14 to 1. Prizes are non-divisible, meaning that if two people get all six numbers, they both get the £10,000 jackpot.

Of every £1 raised, 35p goes to the client organisation, 45p on prizes and 20p to Weather Lottery for the administration. At present, the company has 1,500 clients on its books, and it thinks that it can tap into a potential market of up to one million organisations.

It's quite an ingenious system, and the question is whether the Weather Lottery is such a good generator of profits for shareholders. Another more direct competitor to the National Lottery called Monday Lottery ran into a bit of trouble earlier this year, and investors in the parent company, Chariot, have seen their shares go from 220p at their peak in the spring to about 3p now.

That is a salutary warning, but I think the Weather Lottery has a little more going for it as it is a quite pleasing combination of pure lottery and the old pools, with the weather replacing football results.

It also seems to be good at pressing its charitable credentials. And it's only £1 a go, after all. The shares are about 9.5p a go, against the 8p each at which they were floated on the AIM a few weeks ago. So, I'm certainly happy to buy a few.

By the way, I do think the gambling industry could and should do even more to deal with problem gambling, as it is euphemistically called. Or addiction, to give it its proper name. And so should the Government, by the simple expedient of ending its desperate attempts to boost the economy by a couple of tenths of a decimal point via this huge state-encouraged expansion in one of the more problematic sectors of the economy.

It doesn't take into account the costs associated with gambling addiction imposed on families, companies and the heath service. I think it's important for shareholders to say as much. For most of us, most of the time, a few pounds on a football match or the outcome of the Labour leadership struggle is a bit of trivial fun; but we really don't need more opportunities to waste more of our money.

Finally, I didn't manage to get any Aer Lingus shares after all. It was a hard float to crack unless you happened to be resident in Ireland. Not exactly in the spirit of the European ideal, but there we are.

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