Gambling is firmly entrenched within British society. The National Lottery is perhaps the most accessible form of gambling with tickets on sale in almost every small grocery or news shop along with the biggest supermarkets.
The lottery, with its huge prizes and a percentage of profits going to charitable and sporting projects perhaps feels to many as though it’s not gambling at all, just a way of supporting that might result in a windfall. A kind of ‘giving with benefits’.
Let’s not pull the wool over our own eyes. The National Lottery along with its associated scratch cards is gambling and for some it forms an addiction that ruins family finances and life. This is a problem that affects poorer families and communities disproportionately as it is in these communities that most scratch cards and lottery tickets are bought.
The government use the lottery to subsidise some services that have seen cuts through the various funds such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the sports funding. One can get the impression that it is in fact a national duty to buy lottery products if only to make sure that our haul of Olympic and Paralympic gold medals is maintained and in fact increased.
The lottery is operated but not now owned by Camelot. Camelot is in fact now owned by a Canadian pension company. Annual accounts from Camelot showed that gross ticket sales secured an enormous £7.2 billion in 2015, up from £6.7 billion in the previous year. They reported a profit of around £72 million. Whilst profits go up year on year the chances of winning have actually fallen with tickets doubling in price from £1 to £2 but prize money not doing the same. In addition to the reported Camelot profits millions are also paid over to its parent company, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, rather than being handed on to good causes.
It is improbable that lottery culture will demise anytime soon but bringing it into public ownership rather than private ownership would see more of the profits of our gambling fixation remaining within the public realm. As for online gambling companies with their emphasis on football betting and wall to wall advertising well that’s another story.
Photograph: Filbert Street Grocery, Leicester, Paul Conneally 2016