European lotteries link to offer £50m prizes

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The Independent Online

Europe's richest lottery, offering a jackpot of more than £50m, was launched by Camelot yesterday in an attempt to boost ticket sales.

Payouts from the new EuroMillions game, linking the UK's National Lottery with its state-run equivalents in France and Spain, will dwarf the top prizes offered under the existing Lotto game of between £8m and £14m. Its success is seen as vital to boosting sales and winning the new lottery licence starting in 2009.

Tickets priced £1.50 go on sale tomorrow.The game is designed to entice new players by increasing the chances of a rollover. The odds of winning the EuroMillions jackpot stand at 76 million to one compared with 14 million to one for the current Lotto.

The launch comes just days after the Government called in the National Audit Office to investigate why almost £3bn of lottery money was lying idle in government coffers despite being earmarked for good causes. The backlog is due in part to bureaucracy within the 15 distributing bodies, which are themselves funded with lottery money. Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said the backlog threatened "public confidence in proper management of the lottery".

Figures released by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport showed that the bodies with the biggest backlogs were those with the largest budgets. The Heritage Lottery Fund, which allocates money to large-scale projects, has £960m of allocated grants not yet taken up. The New Opportunities Fund, which hands out money to health, education and environmental projects, has the next biggest, with £776m.

Camelot has sought to broaden the number of draw-based and scratchcard games in recent years to halt the decline in ticket sales. Sales last year fell to £4.6bn compared with a 1997 high of £5.5bn but figures released last week indicated that the six-year decline might be ending.

Proceeds from the EuroMillions draw will be divided using the same formula as the seven domestic Camelot games. Twenty-eight per cent will go to good causes and 12 per cent to the exchequer. This compares with 26.1 per cent on tax and good causes in France and 33 per cent in Spain.

Dianne Thompson, chief executive of Camelot, said: "It has been designed to create larger jackpots that will grow and grow and grow. The chances of winning £30m, £40m or £50m become a reality.

"EuroMillions is the first game of its kind in Europe and will be played in the UK, France and Spain.

"Teaming up with these countries is a major step forward for the National Lottery and many other countries in Europe are queuing up to join."

Camelot is taking a risk with EuroMillions because long-odds games tend to result in sharply fluctuating ticket sales, according to one expert.

The latest game has been launched with two other countries to spread this risk, according to the economics professor Ian Walker of Warwick University. He said: "The danger is that people quickly realise the slim chances of a big prize and sales are really low until there is a big rollover."

Players choose five numbers from a list of one to 50, then two numbers from one to nine from a "lucky star" panel on the play slip. Camelot says there is a one-in-24 chance of winning a prize. Prizes start off at an estimated £6.70 for matching two numbers from the first five and one lucky star number. The first prize draw will take place in Paris at 9pm next Friday and will be shown live on Sky One.