“We’ve seen recently that there is a really strong connection between the ticket you buy and helping the country to get out of coronavirus.”
While proud to declare “we simply wouldn’t have come second in the middle table in Rio were it not for the National Lottery” and keen to point out it has funded big projects like the new V&A museum in Dundee, the figure Sir Hugh relishes in is that 70 per cent of the grants handed out are for £10,000 or under.
“There’s a huge legacy of, you know, cricket nets and football changing rooms and village halls,” he beams.
Camelot is expected to bid again when the licence comes up for renewal in 2023 against probable competition from billionaire media mogul Richard Desmond, who runs the Health Lottery. The other main rival Sir Richard Branson is understood to have withdrawn from the race in light of the turmoil at Covid-hit Virgin.
They have also faced competition from the People’s Postcode Lottery, who Sir Hugh accuses of not being “on a level playing field” because they “are nothing like as well regulated as we are, make no contribution to the Exchequer at all and don’t have to declare what spending money on.”
Sir Hugh, who was installed in 2018, is “not embarrassed” to admit the National Lottery lost its way after the ticket price hike in 2013, followed by a misguided advertising campaign featuring unpopular celebrities like Katie Price, Noel Edmonds and Piers Morgan winning the jackpot when “It could be you”.
“I was really worried in Rio, when I sort of got this sense that this wonderful thing might be about to go wrong,” he says.
In response to the negative publicity, Camelot overhauled the board and executive, rethought the games and changed the prizes.
Last year, its total ticket sales topped £7,206.8 million, of which £1,654.7 million was raised for National Lottery projects, £4,128.5 million was paid to players in prizes, £864.8 million went to the Government in Lottery Duty and £303.9 million was earned by retailers in commission. One of the conditions of Camelot’s licence is that it can only take 1 per cent profit.
Today, 60 per cent of over 16s in Britain play National Lottery games, each spending £5.19 a week on average.
Part of last year’s sales spike was partly down to long string of successive EuroMillions rollovers – but younger players have also been attracted by “the new hierarchy of games”, including Set for Life.
“I think society’s changed in 25 years,” says Sir Hugh. “When all this started it was about fast cars and big yachts, glasses of champagne, big cigars and all the rest of it. Those values don’t drive consumers any more. It’s seen as a bit vulgar now so actually to have a game to try to draw in the younger generation.
“It’s more responsible, more sensible – a set amount of money every month for 30 years. It also proved surprisingly popular with older people, who saw it as a way to sort out the grandchildren.” An added bonus for OAP players is that the Set for Life jackpot is inheritable.
Although the odds haven’t changed on your numbers coming up, players whose numbers come up are now guaranteed a minimum of a million, meaning a new millionaire is created almost every day in the UK. Since the lottery began, 5,500 millionaires have been made.
Less than 10 per cent of jackpot winners go public – with Sir Hugh agreeing that people largely decide to stay quiet if they think they can hide it – easier with a million-pound Lotto win, than a double digit EuroMillions jackpot.
While some winners have sailed off into the sunset, others have seen their good fortune end in divorce and disharmony:
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