Shops reported brisk sales of the pounds 1 tickets and few teething problems with the pounds 70m computer network that links just over 10,000 stores to Camelot, the lottery operator.
The launch was celebrated at an early-morning party at the Tower of London, attended by the Prime Minister, for the countdown to 7am, when the first tickets went on sale. The first draw will be televised on BBC 1 on Saturday.
John Major said: ``I'm going to buy a lottery ticket, and the proceeds will go to charity if I win.'' Later, he revealed the charity would be Mencap, and his lottery numbers were 29, 3, 43 - after his birthdate - 13, 11 and 10.
``Daybreak at the Tower of London has been a pretty inauspicious time for a lot of people over the years but not, I think, this morning,'' he added. ``It [the lottery] is going to raise huge sums of money for good causes that public expenditure would never provide for.'' They include the arts, sport and heritage.
Stephen Dorrell, the National Heritage Secretary, denied claims that the game would act in effect as a tax on the poor, saying: ``Tax is compulsory, the lottery is voluntary.'' But Chris Smith, the Labour heritage spokesman, warned the lottery must not be seen as a method for distributing money from the poor to finance the pastimes of the rich.
The only problems of the day were small ones: computer and satellite links connecting some retailers to Camelot went down, and a flood at a network switching centre in Luton, Bedfordshire, cut off the link to most outlets in the town.
Mixed reception, page 3
Letters, page 15