A nation unhappy to be losers

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IN CHEADLE, a sedate village not known for the unexpected, newsagents say the Thunderball can't come soon enough.

For the uninitiated, this has nothing to do with an inclement summer climate. It is the new National Lottery game that will mean you can be a winner if only two of your numbers are drawn. "It's coming on June 7," every available square yard of display space in every lottery outlet here told consumers yesterday.

Many newsagents in Cheadle, 10 miles from Manchester, say National Lottery fever is over because for too many people, frustration has overcome the thrill of chasing a fortune. Most of all, they're through with that all- too-familiar irritation: two of your numbers come up but there's still no prize.

"A huge rollover used to bring in an extra pounds 4,000 a week for us," said a manager at Ravi's Newsagents in the village. "Now it's more like pounds 700 or pounds 800. People are fed up with not winning on two numbers. There's a bookmakers' down the street where they can place a 50p each-way bet and often take something away."

If Thunderball rectifies some of that, it will be down more to luck than good judgement on the part of Camelot, which runs the lottery. The company said yesterday that the new game had been part of its 1994 licence bid and was nothing to do with market demand for two- number wins. "We respect our players' views and like to hear from them but you have to draw the line somewhere with payouts," said a spokeswoman.

At the counter in Ravi's, National Lottery scratchcards were stacked high, battling for the attention of impulse buyers. "I want to know immediately if I've won so I buy three a week instead of a lottery ticket," said Dorothy Oldham after buying a pounds 1 "Squids In" card, decorated with a colourful octopus, and being disappointed (she had a one-in-three chance).

In its bid for the few coins in our pocket, Camelot has produced about 50 variations of card, from its Tickled Pink variety to the more appro- priately named Pigs Might Fly card. Most cost pounds 1 and pay out pounds 2 at best.

"Camelot do try hard," said Ravi's manager, "but new cards only spread the spend. The same can be said of the midweek lottery draw. When there was just one draw, there would be six days of build-up for a rollover and everyone would be excited. One draw every three days has diluted the mania. The overall spend never increased. It was just spread out."

Stephen Leader has been running the 50-year-old family newsagent's near by for the past 26 years and talks of the toughest economic climate for five years.

"There is uncertainty and people don't spend what they can't afford," he said. "For your average bloke, pounds 2 on scratchcards is money which could be spent on a pint of bitter."