It is not a good moment to scoff at the vulnerable. The weather is freezing, the economy miserable, jobs are being lost and for many a tax deadline is looming. All the same, when Lottery addicts – who are as vulnerable to false hope as anyone can be – use the word “greed” to describe the organisation which sells them tickets every week, a good, loud scoff is the only sensible response.
Camelot, which runs the National Lottery, has doubled the price of a ticket to £2, and the cries of pain and anger from its loyal customers have been deafening. “The lotto is now becoming a game for the rich,” wrote Geordie Mick, protesting on the Lottery’s Facebook page. “Us poor pple will never have a chance of bettering ourselves.” For Johnny Tomcat, the people at Camelot are “disgusting, greedy, selfish and insensitive profiteers”. A “shocked and fuming” Mandy Milby revealed that she had played every week since the Lottery was introduced in 1994, both by herself and as part of a syndicate of three, at a total cost of £27 a month. “You need to get in the real world,” she wrote. “You’re as bad as our blinkered government.” There were several calls for a national protest, with no one buying a ticket.
Here is another idea. Those who have been seduced by the pernicious fantasy of overnight riches should wake up – indeed they should, as Mandy puts it, get in the real world. It is time to take a step back and to look at the effect of a gambling habit which has been marketed relentlessly, supported by government, and promoted week in and week out by the BBC.
The Lottery is a living example of how an apparently innocent idea – premium bonds on steroids – can rot a culture from within. To those who are trapped in their lives, it has offered the illusion that their existence can be transformed. In a cash-obsessed society, it holds out the possibility of an unthinkably large windfall. Then, to sweeten the pill still further, there is the heart-warming idea that, with every bet, gamblers are helping “good causes”. The charade is glamorised along the way by pearly-toothed celebrities.
The result is a society in which the malign influence of the Lottery can been seen at every turn. It is there in the something-for-nothing culture, from wealthy bonus-pluckers at the top of the financial pile to the people Cameron likes to call “skivers” at the bottom.
When bankers and hedge-fund managers help themselves to an absurd and undeserved bonus, there may be protests in the press and online from “ordinary, working people” but the guilty parties are unlikely to take them seriously. After all, when the week’s lucky Lottery winner makes his or her millions – unearned in that case – it is the same newspapers and those ordinary people who treat it all as a wonderful feel-good story.
The Lottery culture spreads the message every week that instant, lucky money is the answer to life’s problems; it is, in reality, the very opposite of Geordie Mick’s “poor pple bettering themselves”. It scoffs at the idea of saving. If that other Facebook enragée Mandy Milby had put aside the £27 she has given Camelot every month since 1994 into a savings account with, say, 3 per cent interest, she would now have accumulated more than £7,700.
The effect of placing gambling at the centre of our nation’s domestic life, of presenting it as a normal leisure activity which actually benefits society, could not be clearer. It is on television, where betting is promoted as never before and where sports programmes increasingly promote the idea that true fans and enthusiasts enjoy a game more if money is at stake. It is there on the high street, where shops are being replaced by rows of bookmakers, with their large plasma screens and automated gambling machines.
The true effect, though, is out of sight. The relentless promotion of the Lottery contains the stupefying, ambition-killing message that it is not through education, or ideas, or endeavour that a person can improve his life; it is by buying a ticket and gazing at a TV screen in desperate, despairing hope twice a week.
There are those who claim that to argue against a pastime which gives moments of pleasure in ordinary lives is elitist and snobbish. The truth is the very opposite. It is the Lottery which is the ultimate in social divisiveness. The poor make regular contributions to the rich; in return, one out of many millions will be rewarded and held up as an example of the good fortune which could befall any of them. Could there be a more cynical form of elitism?
If Conservatives truly believed in the importance of work and the market, they would oppose the National Lottery. If those on the left disapproved of exploitation of the vulnerable, their position would be the same. Yet in politics and in the media, it is given a free ride.
Camelot has announced that the Lottery is being revamped. Its central message will, of course, remain unchanged. Your life can be transformed by greed and gambling.