Earlier, only a computer breakdown was able to halt Britain's day-long gambling frenzy, and then only for half an hour. More than pounds 60m was spent on lottery tickets yesterday alone as millions of people joined in the scramble for the rollover jackpot, causing all 19,000 lottery ticket machines to break down.
By the time sales ended at 7pm about 40 million people, 90 per cent of the adult population, had bought tickets and were waiting for the winning numbers drawn by the singer Cher at 8pm. The numbers were 2, 3, 4, 13, 42, 44 and bonus 24.
After struggling to cope with sales which broke records from 7am onwards, the machines crashed just before 1pm as the lottery's two main data processing sites in Watford and Liverpool proved unable to cope.
Tens of thousands of punters stayed in long queues as technicians rectified the fault. Others were turned away and told to come back later.
"It was a congestion problem caused by the sheer volume of sales," said a spokesman for Camelot. "Between 11 and 12 o'clock we were selling at a rate of five million tickets an hour. Most outlets were back up very quickly, although some may have experienced longer delays signing back on."
But the 30-minute interruption, which may have cost Camelot more than pounds 2m in revenue, did nothing to hold back the demand prompted by the mammoth prize, a double rollover. Sales for the biggest gamble in British history later peaked at nine million tickets an hour, and at one point 5,000 per second, helping to build a record total of pounds 128m for the week. The total prize fund was expected to be pounds 81.5m, shared by some 1.5 million ticket- holders.
It all started early. A new record number of tickets - 250,000 - were sold in the first full hour, and then the figure was beaten repeatedly through the day. At David McClean's newsagents, in Newtown, Powys, where more than 80,000 winning tickets have been sold since the lottery was launched, queues formed from 5.30am.
The value of tickets sold dwarfed the pounds 75m bet on the last Grand National and is believed to have been swelled by gamblers from the Continent and huge private syndicates. Camelot predicted the top prize was likely to be shared by at least six people.
Not everybody was happy. George Foulkes, Labour's front-bench spokesman on overseas aid, said the "mad frenzy" could cost the lives of countless starving people in Third World countries, because much of the stake money would otherwise have gone to charities.
Mr Foulkes, MP for Carrick, Cummock and Doon Valley, said: "In the mad frenzy of a huge proportion of the population trying to become multi-millionaires, and to join the super-rich, people seem to have forgotten the dire plight of starving millions in the poorest and most bleak parts of the earth. Countless more people than might otherwise be the case could starve to death."
Bonds are back, page 4
Hamish McRae, BusinessReuse content