Camelot kept the ticket machines closed yesterday after slow sales last New Year's Day, but the company was preparing for giant takings in the run-up to the weekend's bumper "roll-over" draw. "We would advise people to buy their tickets early this week to avoid queues or to avoid being disappointed," a spokeswoman said.
The jackpot has soared from about pounds 9m because it has "rolled over" twice. There were no winners on 23 December for the pounds 11.7m top prize, nor for the record pounds 23.9m last Saturday.
The first National Lottery jackpot of 1996 could soar past the pounds 40m mark, depending on the number of extra punters who gamble on becoming a multi- millionaire.
Sales usually increase by up to 20 per cent in roll-over weeks and a last-minute stampede could leave some aspiring players ticket-less when the system closes. The Camelot spokeswoman said: "Roll-overs are very popular with the public." The jackpot can be rolled over for one more week if it is not won this Saturday.
If there is still no winner, it will be shared equally among those who pick five out of the six correct numbers plus the bonus ball.
The size of the potential pay-out came under fire from leading churchmen at the weekend who branded it "obscene" and called for the size of the money on offer to be capped. But emphasising the game's effectiveness in raising money for good causes, Camelot's spokeswoman said: "Last week we sold an extra pounds 10m worth of tickets which meant an extra pounds 2.5m for causes."
The previous record pay-out was pounds 23.4m shared by two partners in a glazing business, Mark Gardiner and Paul Maddison, from Hastings, East Sussex.
Explaining the decision to close for business yesterday, the Camelot spokeswoman said so few shops were open that it did not make sense to run the system. "Last year so few tickets were sold on New Year's Day and so many shops are closed anyway that it was a practical decision for us not to operate machines."Reuse content