The first queues to buy lottery tickets for the highest jackpot so far, an estimated pounds 40m, started yesterday in some outlets across Britain as lottery mania gripped the nation.
In an average week, 30 million people buy lottery tickets and spend a total of pounds 65m. But newsagents and supermarkets are anticipating an increase of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent in sales by the weekend.
"It's lottery fever all over again, just like the launch week, with everyone following the jackpot. It's what people need to start the New Year with a bang," said a spokeswoman for Camelot, the National Lottery operator.
The jackpot, which is a double rollover, is currently pounds 33m, but the extra sales are expected to boost it by a further pounds 7m, despite criticism from the Church of England that it is too high. The previous highest jackpot was pounds 22.5m, shared by two double-glazing salesmen.
At Mead's newsagents, in the City of London, sales were up dramatically. "We've already seen a 40-per-cent rise and all the extra tickets have been prompted by the big jackpot.
"It's a very attractive thing to a lot of people out there," said a ticket- seller, Neil Mehta.
Spar, the supermarket chain, was also set for an influx of lottery-ticket buyers. "The real test is going to be the weekend but the interest this week is obviously very high and we're expecting an increase of between 35 per cent and 40 per cent," said a spokesman.
The record sales for the lottery so far were pounds 78m last week, with 5.1 million tickets sold in a single hour last Saturday afternoon. It would take sales of pounds 113m at Britain's 19,000 outlets this week for the jackpot to rise to pounds 40m. The Church of England has condemned the prize as obscene and says that the lottery has turned Britain into a nation of gamblers and hopeless dreamers.
"This jackpot shows even more strongly than ever how the lottery is encouraging false hopes and people are relying on the lottery to solve all their problems The church has said all along that a flutter is fine but the lottery has gone way beyond that," said a Church of England spokesman.
The church has prompted further calls for prizes to be capped and spread out among more people, or for Britain to follow the American example of paying out big wins in annual portions rather than a lump sum.
Patrick Boylan, professor of arts policy at City University, in London, said. "There have to be a very large number of people who have bought tickets and not seen a return, or very little, and it would be much more attractive to have a lottery that paid out medium-level prizes to a lot more people." The Department of National Heritage was fending off criticism of the prize amount with a new campaign this week to encourage more community groups to apply for grants from the lottery good-causes fund.
Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary, has sent out 2 million leaflets to smaller organisations, following suggestions that elitist institutions like the Royal Opera House have benefited most from the lottery.
For many of those who have won the larger jackpots, money certainly has not bought happiness.
Mark Gardiner, who shared the pounds 22.5m prize with his business partner last April, said that it ruined his life. His ex-wife demanded half his fortune and reportedly settled for pounds 1m in the end. His family vilified him the press, he claimed he had beer poured over him by people calling him "you rich bastard" and felt like a prisoner because of the intrusion.
All winners have struggled to maintain privacy. Only 20 per cent of jackpot winners have opted to go public, compared with 50 per cent in Ireland but many have failed to disguise their new-found fortunes.
Camelot has been criticised for not protecting the identities of jackpot winners. "The winners are our bread and butter in PR terms but we'd lose our licence if we deliberately identified them, so it is kept a closely guarded secret," the Camelot spokeswoman said.
Camelot was criticised for not protecting individual identities after the first jackpot winner, a factory worker from Blackburn whose family was also bitterly divided by his pounds 18m prize, was exposed by the News of the World following a ferocious campaign by the press.
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