Opinion: The lottery - what an odd way to raise cash

Nick Cater

I learned two new 'facts' recently, both from the PR person at lottery operator Camelot. Fact One: the National Lottery is not gambling, but just a bit of fun. Don't snigger; he was serious. Fact Two: National Lottery gamblers are not motivated by helping good causes, but by the hope of winning massive sums of money.

The first 'fact' is obviously untrue, but if the second is correct, why does Camelot chief executive Dianne Thompson want to use charities to drive lottery sales?

In a barely reported speech earlier this year, she demanded "prominent display" of the 'crossed-fingers' logo as a means of "keeping public interest and confidence in the lottery high", and revisited Fact One by claiming: "We face increasing competition from the gambling sector."

There is an important line around charity independence and autonomy, often invisible to business executives, politicians and the like. Taking a big step over it, Thompson added: "We would like it to be a condition of grants that all beneficiaries use the logo on their literature, their buildings, their websites and any way in which they come into contact with the public, because we feel sure this would have an enormous impact on positive awareness of lottery funding."

Awareness of lottery funding or awareness of next week's rollover? I've not noticed the Gates Foundation insisting that every charity it supports advertises Microsoft Windows or its Rowntree and Cadbury cousins asking grantees to flog sweets to children.

Any recipient complying with these outrageous demands is simultaneously promoting gambling, undermining its reputation and wasting its money, yet having absolutely no impact on sales because punters, we are told, are not persuaded by good causes.

And even if lottery players cannot do the maths, charities can: every £1 that their "prominent display" of the National Lottery logo diverts into the buying of a lottery ticket offers them the faint prospect of an infinitesimal percentage of the 28p that goes to good causes.

By contrast, a £1 donation is a £1 donation (and £1.28 with the Gift Aid that's not extended to gamblers). So is it £1.28 or a slice of zilch?

Isn't the lottery a very funny way to raise money for charity?

If your charity has been leaned on to promote the lottery by putting the logo on everything from your letterhead to a tattoo on each trustee, I have a piece of advice: uncross the two fingers.

- Nick Cater is a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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