The 19,000 lottery outlets across the country were inundated as queues started before dawn yesterday. Ticket sales are 70 per cent higher than usual and are expected to reach pounds 115m, compared with the weekly average of pounds 65m.
Camelot, the lottery operator, advised people to buy tickets as early as possible today. "The response has been tremendous. It has been a frenzy with nearly every eligible adult playing," said a Camelot spokeswoman. "It's a national phenomenon. This level of jackpot is something that will not happen again for a long time."
The overall prize pool will be an estimated pounds 73m by tonight, and Camelot estimates there will be a total of two million winners of prizes at all levels. Statistically the jackpot is likely to be won by between six and nine people. Many were playing in syndicates this week in an attempt to maximise their chances of a win.
The queue at Lombard Street post office in the City of London, which has one of the highest turnovers of tickets from City syndicates, began before the doors opened yesterday. One customer made a single purchase of pounds 2,000.
"We have a 100 per cent increase in sales and it's lottery fever, with the queue going out of the door on to the street. We've tried to persuade people to go to another office but the word in the City is that our terminal is lucky," said Jean Barnett, the manager.
Even tourists were seizing the chance to become millionaires. A number of French and Belgium travellers had specifically come to buy tickets, while others were caught up in the mood. Janne Kaipainen, from Finland, bought a single ticket. "Everyone here is talking about it, and it's so much bigger than the Finnish lottery," he said. "If I won I'd buy houses everywhere and chase the summer around the world because in Finland it's always winter."
There was concern, however, over whether tickets being sold to Irish lottery players would be recognised. Some retailers in the Republic were buying blocks of tickets in Northern Ireland. A Camelot spokeswoman said if there was any evidence a ticket had been sold on it would not pay out the prize.
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