Independent Decade : Heroes and villains of the runaway lottery

Jackpot junkies
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The Independent Online
In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith walks into a pub to find one "prole" yelling at another: "Can't you bleeding well listen to what I say? I tell you no number ending in seven ain't won for over 14 months!"

In 1996 Mr Smith could probably walk into any pub on Saturday afternoon to hear the same thing. From mid-afternoon onwards, cars jam garages, people queue impatiently in corner shops and mobile phones buzz with requests of "have you got them yet?" until at 7.50 a nation gathers around its television sets.

It is not the measured tones of Big Brother, but the news that It Could Be Them. Since its birth in November 1994, the National Lottery has had an impact far greater than even its most ardent champions could have imagined. Every week tens of millions pick six numbers to go for jackpots of anything up to pounds 23m.

So far the country seems unable to decide whether it sees the Lottery as hero or villain. On one side the tangible effects of its runaway success have been many. The National Lottery has created over 200 millionaires since it started. Reports predict that the Lottery is set to boost the economy by creating more than 110,000 jobs within the next five years as many large lottery-funded projects get under way.

But it has made enemies too, not least of Britain's pounds 900m pools industry, which has announced a significant fall in business. There are suggestions that 6,500 jobs have so far been lost in pools, off-course betting and bingo companies.

And although 25 per cent of the proceeds from tickets is earmarked for charities, it is from them that the Lottery has drawn its fiercest criticism. They claim the creation of National Lottery Instants scratchcards has removed a lucrative way of raising money and that many charities - and their recipients - are suffering as a result.

In a matter of months, the Lottery has turned gambling into a national pastime, encouraging, for example, women - who traditionally shunned the bookmakers' world of greyhounds, football and racing - to bet on an immense scale. An estimated 1.5 million people in Britain are now "problem gamblers", according to a Home Office report

The lottery has thrown up a choice selection of heroes and villains. The discovery that the first recipient of the pounds 17.8m rollover was Asian turned tabloid congratulations into headlines such as: "He had pounds 18m in the bank yet he haggled over a suit from Burtons".

And as well as Anthea Turner and Lottery "fat-cats", tabloid readers have been treated to a whole new source of material in winners - about whom ex-girlfriends, workmates and even parents have lined up to dish the dirt. There was Mark Gardiner, who after winning pounds 22m found himself described in headlines as a "lottery rat" and "sex pest" while his family publicly hoped he crashed his car into a wall and died.

There were cautionary tales such as Tim O'Brien, who had inscribed the same numbers each week on a lottery card but found that he had forgotten to do so when the chosen numbers came up and shot himself.

But it was the pounds 6.5m winner Lee Ryan who perhaps summed up the spirit of the age. Sentenced to 18 months for handling stolen cars, on his release he disappeared into his pounds 1m mansion, ghost-wrote his life story, became the magnanimous subject of a "kiss and tell" and has not ruled out the possibility of further jail sentences because "you can never say never".

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