Phil Blackwell says it is on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where many of the National Lottery’s most fundamental breaches of gambling regulations occur
Trawling through the National Lottery’s social media platforms for the past six weeks throws up plenty of occurrences of phrases such as “sending lots of luck your way” and “hope your luck changes soon” being thrown about.
The concept of luck being an entity that can be shared and accumulated is not only untrue, but also dangerous – there is no threshold at which a person’s luck cashes in.
Phrases such as this can leave vulnerable players with the belief that a big win is just around the corner.
The National Lottery’s famous crossed fingers logo is also now effortlessly incorporated in emoji form into almost every one of its social media posts.
But let’s consider this: “Advertisements for lotteries must not exploit cultural beliefs or traditions about gambling or luck (ASA Code for Lottery Marketing.18.8).”
Could the National Lottery’s entire brand identity be in breach of a fundamental ASA rule? The suggestion that crossing your fingers can positively influence your luck surely counts as a cultural belief.
Innocently, you could argue that the passive use of crossed fingers is harmless as it reflects the randomness of the draw. But, I’m not sure this holds up when you have Camelot staff suggesting players “keep those lucky fingers crossed” in case their luck changes:
The National Lottery on Twitter: “I’m sorry to hear that you’ve not had much luck, Chris. You never know when that may change though, keep those fingers crossed! ^Kane… ”
Suggesting the inevitability of winning
Another common theme is the repeated use of phrases such as “your turn next” and “your turn to win big”, suggesting that winning isn’t as much down to luck, but a matter of simply waiting patiently for your time to come.
The only thing close to inevitable in the lottery is that you won’t win the jackpot, not that you will.
The most responsible response to those questioning the lottery jackpot’s winnability is to acknowledge how improbable it is and advise players to play only what they can afford without any real expectation.
It is certainly not acceptable to blatantly ignore the odds and proliferate the idea that if they only keep spending for long enough, they’ll find success.
As players wait diligently wait for their day in the sun, they might begin to doubt whether it will in fact ever be their turn. They turn to Facebook to express their dismay and are presented with messages of encouragement: keep going, keep buying. You’ve got to be in it to win it, after all. A call to arms in the face of adversity.
Yet this is a breach of ASA guidelines: “[Advertisements must not] portray participation in a lottery in a context of toughness or link it to resilience or recklessness (ASA Code for Lottery Marketing.18.2.8).”
And also: “[Advertisements must not] portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm (ASA Code for Lottery Marketing. 18.2.1).”
Potential for harm
Many would dismiss the potential for harm by arguing that the lottery is cheap and infrequent. But even if you were to ignore potential issues surrounding the lottery as a gateway to other forms of gambling, the regular ticket price – combined with the sheer improbability of winning – can cause costs to quickly escalate.
There are three core draw-based games that Camelot facilitates: Lotto, EuroMillions and Thunderball, each with different ticket prices and odds attached. The prior two draws also come with “HotPicks” side games.
If you were to play each of these five games for one week, buying one entry for every instance, your total weekly spend would be £18. Over the course of a year, it’d rise to £936.
But what if you just played Lotto? One line, twice a week, £2 per play. That’s £4 per week and £208 per year.
Perhaps that doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that the odds of winning the Lotto jackpot are 45,057,474 to one. Based on 104 instances of the game per year, you’d have to play a single line, twice a week for 433,245 years for winning to become a statistical certainty.
Assuming you could actually live that long, prices didn’t rise and humanity was not extinct, you’d have then spent more than £90 million on tickets – better hope it’s a rollover!
Lottery instant win games
The National Lottery also provides a variety of fixed odds instant win games – mostly scratchcards – both in shops and online.
These games are promoted with odds as low as three to one and range in price from just 25p all the way up to £10. They are what lottery sympathisers, as I call them, often choose to disregard when writing off the game as low cost for good causes.
The National Lottery website currently offers a total of 52 instant win games, with 44% of them priced at £3 or more per play – higher than the cost of a single Lotto ticket. And you only have to be 16 to play.
Plus, let’s not forget, the National Lottery even allows you to pay for Lotto, Thunderball and EuroMillions draws by direct debit, complete with a continuous unlimited rolling option.
Can you imagine what would happen if a casino offered an option to play 10 hands of blackjack per week, paid for in the same way?
It’s also important to consider the numbers. According to a Gambling Commission survey from April 2018 entitled “Gambling participation: activities and mode of access”, the top three most popular gambling activities over a four-week period in the UK were National Lottery draws (26.8%), scratchcards (10.4%) and other lotteries (11.1%).
In contrast, the proportion of respondents in the same period who had played “online slot machine style/instant win” games was just 1.1%, with the total figure across all forms of online gambling and betting standing at 23.7%.
Excluding the National Lottery from the wider industry conversation about responsible gambling is like choosing not to include the Queen in a discussion about the Royal Family’s cost to the taxpayer.
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