It Won't Be You

I love the national lottery. I love the national lottery in the same way I love to hear about an outrageous storyline in a soap opera or the tabloid papers` recent excesses. I suppose what I really love about it is that it`s living proof of some of the greatest flaws in human nature. I love that people are gullible, greedy, and ever hopeful to the point of stupidity. I also love the way the whole thing became a massive tour de force from the word go, and the greed and gullibility of the nation made this one little event in the scheme of things become the most talked about entity in Britain.

What also makes me laugh is the irony of our pious governments, who protected us from the iniquity of a lottery for so long that when a sleazier version of government finally gives us one, we go mad. We display an absolutely greed crazed, desperate lottery mania like no other country has seen for many years. So desperate were we for this that in the first twelve hours after the launch on 14th November 1994 Camelot had sold 7 million worth of tickets. And consider in that figure that most of the terminals in Luton and the Isle of Wight were not yet operational. So many people were so sure that they had a chance of winning that they snapped up their tickets in the first twelve hours. And how must the residents of Luton and the Isle of Wight have felt? I wonder if the Isle of Wight ferry became particularly busy that week.

Also, why the timing? Maybe if we hadn`t all been struggling through a recession, with, in the back of our minds, that film clip of the pissed yuppie clutching his wad, like some forbidden memory banned by Big Brother in 1984, we wouldn`t all have been so desperate. It`s no coincidence that when those first new millionaires were tracked down and their progress monitored, they were seen to be buying themselves huge brand new homes. The depressing hangover from the Eighties was that when people came into money they could think of nothing more imaginative to do with it than invest in ugly property. The myth of property equalling wealth had been exploded in front of our very eyes during the recession, and yet most lottery winners and hopeful winners state a new home as being one of the first things they would buy.

Then there`s the all consuming egotism involved. Camelot hit a nerve with their advertising, costing 39 million initially, with the great big hand looming out of the sky and announcing "it`s you" . Poor, bored and desperate, it was to easy to think, "well why shouldn`t it be me for once? I`ve done my bit and I`ve suffered and it bloody damn well should be me. I`d know how to spend 14 million correctly. And I wouldn`t let it change me..." . All along Camelot has succeeded in drawing public attention away from the terrible odds involved by making the lottery seem personal. The people featured in the "It`s You" adverts seem normal, everyday people. The faces featured on recent billboards announcing the number of scratchcard winners so far repeat this ploy; there is nothing special about any of the faces featured there. It must be easy to think, in our most gullible moments, that if that guy with the spots and bad haircut can be rich, then surely I can be too.

The lottery descended upon us with such acclaim and was so ecstatically welcomed by so many people that it seemed inevitable that there would be a backlash, when the public would become disillusioned with the entire wasteful game. So many millions were being poured into Camelot`s coffers each week that it seemed certain the populace could not continue to support it so wholeheartedly. But this never happened on any significant scale. Sure, there were some grumblings when the more naive among us realised several months had gone by and they were still no richer. The most significant public outcry came, not when it was announced by The National Council for Voluntary Organisations that donations to charity had dropped by an estimated 70 million in 1995 ( most people were still under the misapprehension that Camelot`s donations to charity would amply fill that gap), but when Camelot`s first business report announced the lottery had made an average weekly profit for its organisers of 300,000. Disgruntled players became slightly miffed that while they had yet to hit the jackpot, Camelot proved to be doing so every week. Still, as Richard Lloyd, who runs the UK National Lottery home page ( and did so long before Camelot got their act together and organised their own) points out, Camelot`s profits of 5% were actually quite modest for a private lottery operator. The British public had grace enough to realise that if the rich were getting richer, it was entirely their own fault.

Admittedly, two years on most people have a different attitude to the whole thing than they did in those first dewey eyed weeks of play. Enough people have heard of someone who`s been incredibly excited, having matched four or even five numbers only to find out that freakishly, so have so many other people that their winnings are far from the gross millions of pounds that are now deemed the only acceptable amounts worth winning. Many must have laughed cruelly at the frustration felt by those clutching jackpot tickets on Saturday 14th January 1995, all 133 of them, which significantly diminished the main jackpot. Also those expecting smaller prizes of between 100 -75 would also have been disappointed, as a further 2 million people laid claim to the money set aside for this. What a metaphor for life, to feel that finally it is you, you`ve been chosen as special, only to realise there are hundreds like you and you`re not as valuable as you`d hoped.

It`s this that I love about the lottery. It seems so obvious; it`s an Orwellian tool organised by government to keep us busy, optimistic, and dreaming, and we know it. It`s making us gullible, disgruntled and greedy and we know it. While the British populace is engaged in dreaming about winning the money that will help us to better ourselves, we are displaying some of our most tragic flaws. I guess it`s the irony of the whole situation that appeals, that while we gamble our millions every week with that spark of hope in our eyes, we`re always well aware that we`re being taken for one colossal ride.

Carrie McMillan, September 1996.