Bishop calls for curbs on 'obscene' lottery jackpots

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The Independent Online

The biggest National Lottery jackpot so far - pounds 33m - has been branded "obscene" by a senior Anglican bishop, who says the Government should put a limit on prize money.

Ticket sales are expected to soar this week in anticipation of the record prize. Already 30 million people play the lottery each week, and even in a normal rollover week, where the jackpot is carried over because there is no winner, sales go up by 20 per cent.

But the Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Rev Nigel McCulloch, said: "This is far too much. Anyone with any common sense knows that to win pounds 33m in one go can have terrible effects. It can totally destroy lives and bring misery."

If an individual wins this week's jackpot - pounds 11m higher than the last record jackpot of pounds 22.8m, which was shared by two lottery players - he or she will automatically assume the same fortune as Nigel Mansell the motor-racing driver, who risked his life to rise to the top of his sport.

The church, which has been one of the most outspoken critics of the lottery since it was set up more than a year ago, has accused the lottery of creating a nation of gamblers, who pin all their hopes on the chance of a big win, even though the odds of taking a top prize are 1 in 14 million. "Sadly most of the concerns expressed by the House of Bishops when the lottery first started have been realised," said the Rev Eric Shegog, a spokesman for Church House.

"The incomes of charities have diminished, those who can least afford it are spending beyond their means, and it is creating a something-for- nothing culture. For a number of individuals who have won huge prizes, it's created an enormous lot of problems"

The average weekly spend on lottery tickets is pounds 2.15, according to Camelot, compared to pounds 2 on scratch cards, in the hope of winning the jackpot. It is most popular among C2s - skilled manual workers who make up 24 per cent of the population, but buy 31 per cent of tickets.

The Bishop of Wakefield has called for an all-party commission to investigate the effects of the lottery. According to Gamblers' Anonymous, it has received 17.5 per cent more calls for assistance since the lottery was set up. Some addicts are spending up to pounds 150 a week on tickets and scratch cards.

But the Department of National Heritage, which is responsible for the lottery, and Camelot both defended the prizes this weekend. They say the rollovers maximise ticket sales, which ultimately benefits the good causes which receive grants from the lottery.

A Camelot spokeswoman said: "As a result of rollovers ticket sales go up significantly, raising important additional funds for the good causes.

"Last week sales increased by around pounds 10m, raising an extra approximate pounds 2.5m for the good causes."

The Government has resisted calls to cap prizes, because it says evidence from lotteries in other countries show that sales drop notably if the jackpots diminish. "The lottery is a great success and we are not going to apologise for that," a heritage department spokesman said. "It is very unlikely this double rollover will be won by a single person, because the large jackpots are usually shared, although we would not have a problem if it was. "