Would-be MPs warned the conference of the perils of fighting the next election as "the killjoy party" but failed to allay concerns about gambling addiction and the impact of the scratch cards on charities. Sales of Instants are about pounds 28m a week.
"The stress and emotional toll of winning pounds 15 or pounds 20m with all the attendant hype and media publicity seems to have destroyed more families than it has helped," Andrew Stunell, a councillor from Hazel Grave, Greater Manchester, said.
By a narrow majority in a show of hands the conference called on Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, to take urgent action to introduce an upper limit on lottery prizes, end the Instants games and review the contract of Camelot, the lottery organiser, particularly over its profits.
A provision setting the upper limit for the jackpot at pounds 1m was rejected by 244 votes to 229, leaving the ceiling unspecified.
Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the party, was said to be unperturbed by the decision yesterday - which sent much the same message as that given last year when the party voted to review the legalisation of cannabis. There were rumblings about a similar electoral own goal. Liberal Democrat MPs and senior party figures were conspicuously absent from the platform for what proved to be the most emotionally charged debate of the conference so far.
Tony Clayton, a councillor from Sevenoaks, Kent, said that through the lottery the Government had managed to substitute greed for charity and the "dream of a quick buck for care and compassion".
Jill Allen-King, a member of the council of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, said the institute had been forced to cut pounds 800,000 from its budget because of the effect of the lottery on fund raising. "The RNIB provides for us, not free trips or holidays, but the necessities we need to live as blind people," she said.
Several speakers lamented the disproportionate number of scratch cards bought by poorer people. Mr Stunell said one Hazel Grove newsagent was taking pounds 750,000 a week from a single council estate, while Nasser Butt of Crawley, West Sussex, described the selling of dreams to the poor as "evil".
But Charles Anglin, of Lambeth, south London, attacked the "assumption that the poor are too stupid to manage their own affairs" as "sanctimonious, arrogant busybodying".
"The last party in this country to try and ban fun was Oliver Cromwell's," Mr Anglin said. "Sometimes I wonder about the ability of this party to target policies that are universally popular and oppose them."
Peter Jones of Chesham and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, said Liberal Democrats could not tell people what to do with their own money. "Millions of voters enjoy the lottery every week. I don't want to fight the next election as the spoilsport party."
The prospective candidate Chris Maines took the same view, believing that the majority of people in Orpington, south-east London, whose votes he seeks, did not dream of constitutional reform but "of Anthea Turner selecting their six balls on Saturday night".
Camelot lobbied against the conference motion, arguing that it would hamper its ability to generate money for good causes. The company said ongoing costs were substantial and after tax the profit was expected to continue to be less than 1 per cent of sales. "Camelot continues to take risks - people could stop playing tomorrow," a spokesman said.Reuse content