Leading Article: National Lottery fever needs to be calmed

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THE REASON why the profits of the National Lottery are running at pounds 1m a week is not that Camelot is raiding money that should be going to good causes but that the lottery is far more successful than anyone could have foreseen. The profit is simply the result of Camelot efficiently running a monopoly granted to it by the Government. No one was to know what instinctive, impulsive and compulsive a breed of gamblers the British would turn out to be. That is the real problem. The image of a nation of little gamblers who cannot resist just having a trivial flutter every week is far from the truth. Those least able to gamble are doing so excessively. Even if it was not designed to be, the lottery seems to be a very good vehicle for inducing addiction. There is all the showbiz that has been attached to the draws, including the execrable new BBC show on Saturday nights. There is the "it could be you" advertising that never mentions the 14-million-to-one odds against winning the jackpot. And there is the additional midweek draw that especially tempts those many souls who always choose the same six numbers.

Distasteful and miserable though much of the lottery phenomenon is, this is certainly one genie that will never be put back in its bottle, if only because too many public projects have, sadly, come to rely on it for funding. But there are limited, pragmatic, measures that could easily be taken to rein the lottery in. Camelot should be granted no more draws. When the Government comes to look at the new licence applications it could limit the lottery to one draw a week. It could easily take the glamour out of the TV coverage. Most importantly, the lottery organisers should be required to show how their proposals would minimise addiction and make provision for those individuals who are unfortunate enough to have their lives wrecked by the lottery. In some ways the lottery has been a tremendous success and has helped the so-called good causes. But the time has come to recognise the harm it has brought in its wake and to civilise it as far as we can.

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