Lottery gambling is kept sacred from bookmakers

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The Independent Online

The Government is expected to reject calls from British bookmakers to allow side betting on the National Lottery when new gaming legislation is unveiled next week.

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, sent out a strong signal yesterday that the bookies' pleas to be allowed to take bets on the lottery draw numbers – in the same way as it is possible to bet on the Irish lottery – will be refused.

Announcing reforms to the National Lottery aimed at reducing bureaucracy and getting smaller handouts to communities more quickly, Ms Jowell stressed that the point of the lottery was spending money on good causes.

"We shall not be gambling with the future of the National Lottery because the lottery is special and quite unlike other forms of gambling in two ways – most people play it and everyone benefits from it, whether or not they win a prize," she said.

Sources close to the Culture Secretary said that she was keen to rule out side betting, because it boosted bookmakers' earnings rather than created new revenue for the lottery.

On a small bet on three numbers coming up, a bookmaker was likely to provide better odds than the lottery, although the lottery is a better bet for the full six numbers.

A spokesman for William Hill said it was peculiar that the only thing in Britain on which betting was prohibited was not, for example, on the assassination of the prime minister but the National Lottery. "It is something we've drawn attention to. It would seem to us to be a fairly minor request," he said. "But it's not top of our wish list."

Ms Jowell also signalled her intention to streamline the way lottery cash was distributed and she questioned whether 15 different distributing bodies were needed. A consultation paper this summer will investigate proposals for local one-stop shops for smaller grants and for the establishment of community chests, which could award grants of up to £500 without lots of form filling.

She is also to establish a National Lottery Day to encourage people "to celebrate the difference the lottery has made to people's lives". Camelot, the lottery organiser, is to spend £3.2m on a campaign stressing the good work the lottery has made possible.