Scheme to sell scratch cards in pubs provokes church fury

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The Independent Online


Scratch cards have gone on sale in pubs across Britain, provoking a furious response from church leaders and prompting calls for the sales to be banned.

Oflot, the lottery watchdog, is being urged to launch an investigation into the running of the game, exactly a year since tickets first went on sale.

Lottery operator, Camelot, has added the Instants game to the sale of tickets in 40 pubs as part of a pilot scheme. Traditionally, the law has discouraged mixing gambling and alcohol. The trial has fuelled concern that Camelot and the Government are exploiting the popularity of the game. More than pounds 4.5bn worth of tickets and cards have been sold in its first year.

Among the most outspoken critics is the Church of England. "The House of Bishops has expressed concern about the lottery from the outset, and this is going to make matters even worse," a Church House spokesman said. "Introducing cards in pubs will only compound the problems surrounding the lottery and increase the gambling mania it has brought."

The Rt Rev David Sheppard, the Bishop of Liverpool, has called for the sale of scratch cards to be suspended altogether. "I am increasingly concerned by the ready access to Instants games, which are believed to be compulsive in character. Until proper research has been completed, I would encourage a suspension of issuing new licences," he said.

A confidential Camelot briefing document leaked to the Independent highlights the game's huge success. It shows that many people who can least afford it are spending on it, and acknowledges that charities have been hit by reduced donations.

Three in four households - around 30 million people - play the lottery each week. Average weekly spending is pounds 2 on the draw, pounds 1.50 on scratch cards. The weekly on-line draw accounts for 75 per cent of sales, and scratch cards 25 per cent.

Research for Camelot by AGB International shows that the weekly draw is more popular among the social category C2, skilled manual workers, than any other group. ABs account for 20 per cent of the adult population, but only 17 per cent of ticket sales; whereas C2s, 24 per cent of the population, buy 31 per cent of tickets.

There is concern that Camelot is overselling the game to get the nation hooked.

One newsagent in the east of England said he was shocked when a Camelot representative last month suggested that he should train his staff to tell customers to spend loose change on scratch cards. "This representative said we should tempt customers into buying more tickets," said the newsagent, who wished to protect his identity. "He said we should suggest they buy a scratch card as we hand them change. I said I believed in giving people free choice."

The move to introduce the lottery into pubs came from the beer industry, and from confectionery and tobacco suppliers, who have lost out to consumers spending loose change on scratch cards rather than on chocolate and cigarettes.

Labour last night condemned the introduction of the lottery into pubs. Dr Jack Cunningham, Labour's lottery spokesman, said that it raised serious questions about the running of the game.

"Alcohol and gambling often do not mix well ... Under-age gambling and under-age drinking may well be facilitated by the installation of lottery machines in pubs," Dr Cunningham commented.

"These matters should be rigorously investigated by Oflot and discussed in Parliament before the nationwide introduction of lottery machines in pubs proceeds."

Camelot has also come under attack for the size of the jackpots, prompting calls for prizes to be capped.

The single largest win in its first year was pounds 22m, and it has created 132 millionaires.

The possibility of limiting prize sizes has been discussed with the Department of National Heritage and Oflot. But Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, defended the massive jackpots yesterday.

"If you want to have a maximum return to good causes, all the evidence is that the big jackpots are what make more people play," she said.

Mrs Bottomley, who plays the lottery as part of a family syndicate, also denied that the lottery had created gambling mania in Britain.

"There are all sorts of ways in which people may spend their money unwisely," Mrs Bottomley said.