DOMINIC LAWSON: Bosses paid millions to entice children to gamble?

DOMINIC LAWSON: Bosses paid millions to entice children to gamble?

July 20, 2020

DOMINIC LAWSON: Bosses paid millions to entice children to gamble? Now that’s winning the Lottery

That spectral sound you can hear is the ghost of Margaret Thatcher saying ‘I told you so’.

This image came to me when reading the Sunday Times’s revelation of how a ‘loophole’ had allowed children of 16 and 17 to gamble up to £350 a week in pursuit of National Lottery jackpots on their laptops or smartphones.

The state-licensed lottery monopolist Camelot offers more than 40 ‘instant-win’ online games, promising ‘lots of fun, loads of prizes’ in what the paper described as ‘a parade of bright colours, flashing lights and photos of glamorous 20-somethings celebrating their wins’. 

A ‘loophole’ had allowed children of 16 and 17 to gamble up to £350 a week in pursuit of National Lottery jackpots on their laptops or smartphones. That spectral sound you can hear is the ghost of Margaret Thatcher (pictured) saying ‘I told you so’.

Camelot (pictured: its headquarters in Watford), which operates the National Lottery, takes about £50 million a year from 16 and 17-year-olds, two-thirds of this from ‘instant-win’ online games and scratchcards

Other gambling firms are banned from pursuing the under-18s, but Camelot takes about £50 million a year from 16 and 17-year-olds, two-thirds of this from ‘instant-win’ online games and scratchcards.

This is not the wholesome and straightforward once-a-week competition that the National Lottery presented itself as when launched by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1994. 

Although Major’s predecessor was known to have the profoundest reservations about his signing of the Maastricht Treaty which inaugurated the common European passport, her opposition to the creation of a national lottery was less remarked upon.

The National Lottery was launched by then-Prime Minister John Major (pictured left) in 1994

MALIGN 

But Major’s chancellor, Norman Lamont, told me that when, as a minister in her last administration, he had tried to persuade Thatcher to licence a national lottery, she had thundered at him: ‘So long as I am Prime Minister, there will be no state encouragement of gambling!’

And in his recently published memoir, Nicholas Coleridge, the former UK boss of the Condé Nast magazine empire, recalled the ex-PM Thatcher telling him how she had upbraided a woman she saw buying a lottery ticket: ‘I approached her at once, and urged her not to waste her precious coin. I said ‘Don’t waste it, dear, you should invest that pound instead’.’

Nicholas Coleridge (pictured), the former UK boss of the Condé Nast magazine empire, recalled Margaret Thatcher telling him how she had upbraided a woman she saw buying a lottery ticket

Then, wagging her finger at Coleridge and his companion, she went on: ‘I hope neither of you will ever contemplate buying a lottery ticket. It’s not a game, it’s a racket!’ 

It was an almost unbearable irony that the movie The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep and whose portrayal of Thatcher in the advanced stages of dementia so upset her family, was financed with £1 million from the National Lottery ‘good causes’ fund (to which is directed a quarter of the Lottery’s income from punters).

Margaret Thatcher had been brought up a Methodist, a church with a particular horror of gambling — though it was the Labour Party with which Methodism had been most associated.

The former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley was alluding to this when, in 2005, he lambasted the Gambling Act of the Blair government, which legalised TV advertising of betting and also the iniquitous fixed odds betting terminals on every high street in the land, on which people could bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.

When Hattersley denounced his party’s decision to turbo-charge the promotion of gambling as ‘shameful, because it betrays what were the best instincts of the Labour Party and exposes thousands of people to exploitation and the misery of debt’, he was accused of ‘gross disloyalty’.

In 2005, former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley (pictured) lambasted the Gambling Act of the Tony Blair government, which legalised TV advertising of betting

But if anything, he had underestimated the malign consequences, not least for young people, as well as what Margaret Thatcher would have thought of as the ‘feckless poor’.

According to the industry’s own regulator, the Gambling Commission, around half a million children — no fewer than one in six of those aged between 11 and 15 — now gamble. Its 2018 survey showed that one in eight students admitted they had skipped lectures in order to pursue their habit, and that the number of 16-year-olds hooked on gambling had risen by a third in just three years.

There are now around half a million people in the UK defined as having ‘a serious gambling problem’, a figure which would have been unimaginable a generation ago.

While the National Lottery is by no means the most addictive form of gambling, I gained a minuscule insight into its ability to delude its participants on the one occasion on which I bought tickets.

It was the week of its first super-rollover (or whatever they call it) when the prize on offer had reached something like £20 million. In the days between buying the ticket and the declaration of the winner, I became bizarrely certain that I would be that winner, and formed increasingly detailed plans about how I would spend the money.

I’m embarrassed to say that I felt a slight sense that it was ‘wrong’ when I turned out not to be the jackpot winner after all. When I came to my senses, I understood just how potent this delusion is for so many people.

It helps explains why Camelot is hugely profitable, enabling it to pay out an anticipated £5 million to its very successful long-time boss Diane Thompson, after she had left the company (her reward as part of a ‘long-term incentive plan’).

While the National Lottery is by no means the most addictive form of gambling, it has an ability to delude its participants. It helps explain why Camelot is hugely profitable, enabling it to pay out an anticipated £5 million to its very successful long-time boss Diane Thompson (pictured) after she had left the company

DESTROYS 

In total, Camelot’s directors have taken more than £40 million in pay and benefits since the operator’s latest licence began in 2009. The company’s slogan ‘It could be you’, should be amended to ‘It will be us’, when applied to its own executives.

Of course, the success it has had in attracting 16 and 17-year-olds to take up the habit boosts the profits which justify those salaries and bonuses.

I appreciate the argument that gambling is, for the most part, conducted by adults who should be free to spend their money how they wish, however stupidly.

But the inexorable rise in children becoming addicted to a pursuit which destroys families and is associated with an increasing number of suicides by young men is undoubtedly linked to the National Lottery’s gargantuan presence — and its development of ‘instant games’, whether in the form of scratchcards or online.

Camelot: leave the kids out of it.

Why I tell guests to beware of the adders

Deaths from adder bites are vanishingly rare. But Britain’s only venomous snake still packs a toxic punch.

The Mail reported last week how Lewis Wise, aged three, had been left ‘temporarily paralysed’ and hospitalised after being bitten by one he had accidentally stepped on in a park in Surrey.

His father, Daniel, who happens to be a ‘snake enthusiast’ with a collection of 47 (non-poisonous) pythons and boas, said: ‘I heard a massive scream and realised he’d been bitten.’

Deaths from adder (pictured) bites are vanishingly rare. But Lewis Wise, aged three, had been left ‘temporarily paralysed’ and hospitalised after being bitten by one he had accidentally stepped on in a park in Surrey

I feel fortunate this never happened to any of our children. Our home In East Sussex is a magnet for adders. It is in the sort of open woodland habitat and sandy soil the snake thrives on.

When we moved in, we found the previous owner had left us some anti-venom in the fridge, with a note saying: ‘You’ll need this.’ 

Once, we were having dinner when we saw an adder slithering across the floor. One of our guests, who’d just driven in from London, could not believe his eyes. We affected nonchalance, of course.

The three-year-old (pictured) was attacked by a venomous adder at Lightwater Country park in Surrey on Sunday. His father, Daniel, happens to be a ‘snake enthusiast’

But neither we, nor our children, have ever been bitten by any of our resident adders. However, we used to have a giant dog, a Leonberger called Zulu, who was once over-curious in his approach. We knew he had been bitten when he emitted a weird bark and shot off to immerse himself in our mill-pond (presumably to cool off the bite).

He then came galumphing back, and, covered in slimy detritus from the muddy pond, proceeded to ruin every carpet in the house as he hurtled from room to room, yelping piteously.

Happily, he recovered from the bite. But still, we warn visitors with dogs to beware of the adders.

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