The forces of European scepticism have turned their baleful gaze on the only popular European institution, the Euromillions lottery.
A few days after a Scottish couple scooped £161m – the biggest ever Euromillions jackpot – a French woman has brought a formal complaint before the European Commission: that gamblers in some countries have more chance of winning than in others.
The euro may be tottering on the brink of collapse. The prudent Germans may be refusing to help the feckless Greeks. The French may accuse the Italians of flooding them with illegal immigrants.
No matter. Nothing could be more better calculated to spread the poison of anti-European feeling than the suggestion that the Euromillions lottery, played twice a week by 18,000,000 people in nine countries, is skewed to favour some nations over others.
The complainant is called Madame Meilheureux, which, roughly speaking, translates as "Mrs Unhappy".
Has she discovered that the Spanish have to place a lower stake than all the rest? No, it costs €2 (£1.75) to place a single bet in all nine countries (even in Switzerland and Britain, who do not use the euro).
Has she discovered that you need to pick fewer winning numbers to scoop the jackpot in Britain, or in Scotland? No, you have to get five numbers, and two star numbers, correct in all the participating nations.
This gives each entry a 116,531,000 to one chance of winning the jackpot. According to the helpful Euromillions website, you have a much better chance of being struck by lightning (1 in 10,000,000) or dying by falling out of bed (1 in 2,000,000).
Laure Meilheureux, who runs a decorating company, has discovered, however, that it is much easier to make multiple entries in some countries than others. In France, you are forbidden to make more than 378 bets on one ticket (at a cost of €756).
In Belgium, you can choose up to 882 combinations of numbers on one entry slip (costing €1,764). In Spain, you are allowed to bet a massive €5,040 on one ticket, giving you 2,520 chances of winning. In Britain, you can make only one €2 entry per ticket.
Euromillions lottery officials say that the complaint brought by Madame Meilheureux – under EU fair competition law – makes no sense. There is nothing to stop her, they point out, buying 20 tickets with 378 bets each or 1,000 or 2,000 tickets – if she wants to risk that much money.
The 378-bet per ticket limit in France was imposed, they say, because to allow more would be to encourage "gambling bulimia". Madame Meilheureux does not accept this argument. Having to fill in lots of different tickets is tiresome, she says. It also annoys the tobacconists' who are the only people licensed to accept lottery wagers in France.
Besides, she says, there is a European principle at stake. "There is no logic in the fact that a game played across Europe has different rules in different countries," she said. "It's not money I care about but making the rules the same for everyone."
Her argument that French gamblers are unfairly penalised is, however, contradicted by a simple mathematical fact. France provides just over 21 per cent of all Euromillions punters but has, to date, scooped 26 per cent of all the jackpots in seven years.Reuse content