You can bet on almost anything, although one bookmaker refused to quote on the date of the end of the world (the punter wanted to pay with a post-dated cheque!).
Launched in 1994, the lottery is operated by Camelot, for whom it has proved a licence to print money. It’s the UK’s answer to the state lotteries staged by European countries and most US states (the previous national lottery in the UK was suspended in 1826 when the operator absconded with the takings). While initially a tremendous success, it has recently declined in popularity. Tickets cost £1 each and jackpots can be £20 million or more when ‘rolled over’ for a few weeks. (This happens when no one has chosen the six main numbers in the draw and the prize money is added to that of the following week, thus allowing a bigger jackpot to build up). Your chance of landing the jackpot is 14 million to one against (there’s a much greater likelihood you will be struck dead by lightning tomorrow), although this doesn’t prevent a majority of Britons playing regularly.
You must be aged 16 or over to play (although many younger children get around this). Tickets can be bought from corner shops, newsagents, supermarkets, petrol stations and post offices, all which display the National Lottery symbol of a smiling hand with crossed fingers. This must be done by 7.30pm on Saturdays to be included in the Saturday draw. All you need do is choose six numbers between 1 and 49 (you need three out of six to win a prize). Don’t lose your ticket, as it’s the only proof that you’re a winner. The draw on Saturday evenings is shown live on BBC television. Winning numbers are broadcast on radio and television, published in national newspapers and displayed by National Lottery retailers. Prizes must be claimed within 180 days after the winning draw. Don’t be fooled by unofficial overseas agents for the National Lottery who charge far more than the face value for each £1 ticket! If you wish to take part while abroad, you can buy a subscription ticket for six months or one year direct from the organisers (www.national-lottery.co.uk).
The lottery was ostensibly created to provide money for ‘good causes’, including sports, the arts, the National Lottery Charities Board and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Of the proceeds, under 30 per cent of turnover goes to ‘good causes’ and another 12 per cent to the government in tax. Donations to charities have fallen considerably since the lottery began and many face serious cash shortfalls in the next few years. Scratch cards with instant prizes of up to £50,000 – which have been likened to fruit machines and are highly addictive – and a second weekly draw on Wednesday evenings were introduced later, and exacerbated this situation. Lottery addicts have swamped Gamblers Anonymous since its inception, and disputes over prize money have caused marriages to break up and friends to fall out. Sadly, one man even shot himself after failing to buy a ticket in a week in which the set of numbers he invariably used would have won him the jackpot prize.
Some of the UK’s 10,000 or more turf accountants (usually called betting shops or bookies, short for bookmakers) will be found in just about any town in the country. These were legalised in the ‘60s to allow off-course betting on horse and greyhound races. Traditionally, their turnover increases in difficult economic times when many Britons turn to gambling for relief, but they, along with all other sectors of the gambling industry, have been hard hit by the National Lottery in recent years. You can also bet on horse and greyhound races by post or telephone, while on-course tote betting is also popular. A racing results service is provided on the teletext information service on ITV4.
Until the National Lottery was launched, the football pools were the UK’s biggest weekly ‘flutter’ with a weekly turnover of £900 million, and participants can still win huge cash prizes by forecasting (i.e. guessing) the results of football matches. The treble chance is the most popular bet, involving punters guessing which matches will be score draws (matches which end in a draw with each team scoring at least one goal) and prizes can run to around £2 million. Many millions of people, within the UK and around the world, have a weekly bet on the pools. If you don’t want to fill out a coupon every week, you can arrange a standing order always using the same numbers.
London is one of the world’s most celebrated gambling centres among the seriously rich and it comes as no surprise to discover that it’s home to over 25 of the UK’s some 120 casinos (only France has more in Europe). Its casinos have a turnover of well over £2.2 billion a year. Turnover is much smaller in provincial casinos, where gamblers generally play more often, but for smaller stakes. Casino staff are prohibited by law from taking tips, so that if you give one it ends up in the pockets of the management or is returned. The strict rules under which British casinos now operate are criticised by some as archaic, when computer gambling (via credit card) is available on the internet 24-hours a day (although how you can guarantee getting your winnings is another matter).
Premium Bonds aren’t an investment, as no interest is paid. They’re similar to a ticket in a lottery, except that you cannot lose your original investment and can cash in your bonds at any time, at face value. The ‘possible’ premium is in a monthly draw (made by ERNIE, the Premium Bonds computer), which offers prizes ranging from £50 to £1 million (around 250,000 prizes totalling up to £20 million a month). You must invest a minimum of £100 at any one time, purchases must be in multiples of £10 (e.g. £110, £120), and the maximum holding is £30,000. Bonds can be purchased at any post office, by post or online (www.nsandi.com) and are entered into the next draw after purchase. Results are announced in the national press and are available at main post offices (including a list of unclaimed prizes).
Other forms of popular gambling are bingo (casinos for housewives, where around five million have a weekly flutter in 1,000 commercial bingo clubs), slot-machine arcades (the poor man’s Las Vegas) and sweepstakes (the most popular of which is the Irish Sweepstake). If you have a gambling problem, Gamblers Anonymous (PO Box 5382, London W1A 6SA, 020-7384 3040) may be able to help (but unfortunately they cannot provide you with a stake).
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.