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The National Lottery: It could still be you, 25 years on

By Mark Andrews | In-depth | Published:

It could be you. Of all the advertising slogans of the past decade, it is hard to think of one which has struck more of a chord with the people.

Preparing for the first National Lottery draw were original presenters Gordon Kennedy, Noel Edmonds and Anthea Turner

No matter that the prospect of it actually 'being you', winning the jackpot on the National Lottery, is only slightly more likely than having been married to Katie Price, millions of people across the country will still queue to buy a ticket tomorrow in the hope of becoming an overnight millionaire.

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of Camelot being awarded the franchise to run the UK's national lottery. And it is fair to say that over the past quarter of a century, the lottery has become firmly ingrained in British life.

And while the chances of hitting the jackpot may seem vanishingly small, there is no escaping the fact that people do win. According to Camelot, the lottery creates an average of 30 millionaires every month, and more than 5,100 people have made a million or more since the lottery began.

In the Midlands, it has created 687 new millionaires, while a total of 5,705 people in the region have won a 'high tier' prize of £50,000 or more.

Nigel Railton, chief executive of Camelot, points out that the lottery has not only made a lot of people very wealthy, but it has also generated billions for good causes.

In the West Midlands alone, the lottery has seen more than £2.6 billion distributed through 38,000 grants across the region since the lottery began.

Camelot chief executive Nigel Railton is shown around the Express & Star and Shropshire Star by editor-in-chief Martin Wright

Mr Railton, who visited the Express & Star and Shropshire Star earlier this month, says: "It’s truly been an amazing 25 years, and so much good has happened in that time which should be celebrated.

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"Thank you to all the National Lottery players who, over a quarter of a century, have helped raise over £39 billion for good causes, funding fantastic projects that have benefited local communities, towns and cities all over the UK, and, ultimately, have improved the lives of millions of people.

"And who can forget that, beyond those fantastic Good Cause projects, more than 5,100 millionaires or multimillionaires have been created by The National Lottery since 1994."

Contrary to popular opinion, it was not the UK's first national lottery. That accolade goes to one held in 1569, which was organised principally to raise funds for the Cinque ports in the south-east of England. But given that it took place 450 years ago, it is understandable that memories of it are a little hazy. A total of 400,000 tickets were sold, with prizes including plates, tapestries and money.

The first state-run lottery was the Million Adventure, launched in 1695, the brainchild of Master of the Royal Mint Thomas Neale. A total of £100,000 tickets were sold for £10 a time – more than £2,000 at today's prices – to help finance England's role in the Nine Year's War against France. Neale received a 10 per cent commission of ticket sales, so it was certainly a big win for him.

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Former prime minister John Major is usually credited as the driving force behind the modern national lottery, but it was Staffordshire MP Sir Ivan Lawrence who first moved the idea in a private members' bill in 1991. By this time similar lotteries had been operating in several countries across Europe for a number of years, but Margaret Thatcher, a devout Methodist, had always been concerned about the idea.

Debbie Walsh won a competition to push the button for the first National Lottery draw, on a show fronted by Noel Edmonds

Major said at the time: "The country will be a lot richer because of the lottery. It is in every sense the people's lottery."

Camelot, a consortium originally made up of Cadbury-Schweppes, British bank-note printer De La Rue, mobile phone company Racall and US technology company GTech, beat off competition from Richard Branson's People's Lottery for the first seven-year licence to run the lottery. Branson, who had offered to run the lottery on a not-for-profit basis was unhappy with the decision, but Camelot convinced government regulators that it would be able to raise more for good causes. Camelot, which was taken over by a Canadian pensions group in 2010, has continued to run the lottery ever since, and holds the franchise until 2023.

The first lottery draw too place on November 19, 1994, on a television programme presented by Noel Edmonds, with Debbie Walsh winning a competition to push the button to start the machine. The first numbers drawn were 30, 3, 5, 44, 14 and 22, the bonus was 10, and seven jackpot winners shared a prize of £5,874,778. Approximately seven million tickets were sold within 12 hours of the lottery's launch, and the approximately 45 million tickets were sold ahead of the first draw.

Initially, the lottery was confined to a weekly Saturday draw, but in 1997 the second Wednesday night draw was added. In 1999 it introduced a second lottery game, Thunderball, which offers smaller prizes but a much greater chance of winning.

Lucky workplace

In the early days, Tipton was seen as one of the luckiest areas, with a national newspaper even offering a weekend mini-break in the Black Country town in an attempt to hit the jackpot. The town's Holness family seemed particularly lucky, with three family members winning big in the first few months of 1995.

Alwin Holness was the first to hit the jackpot, winning a £2.7 million share of the £11 million jackpot his workplace syndicate scooped in April 1995. Days later, his cousin Kevin Holness was one of a group of 15 workers at the BTS Monarch Tyre company in Tipton who won £2.4 million. Later that month another un-named relative scooped £2,000 on a lottery scratchcard.

The Palethorpes meat plant in Market Drayton has proved to be something of a lucky workplace, with a workers' syndicate scooping £6.3 million in 2006, followed by another £303,456 10 years later.

The pan-European Euromillions came along in 2004, with Colin and Christine Weir from Ayrshire taking £161 million in 2011 and Suffolk couple Adrian and Gillian Bayford scooping £148 million the following year.

Technology has also changed the way many people have played the lottery over the past quarter of a century. Last year an un-named electrician from the West Midlands became a millionaire without even holding a ticket, having entered EuroMillions online.

In March this year, Camelot launched the new Set For Life game, which offers winners the chance to receive £10,000 a month for up to 30 years. Earlier this month, a man from the West Midlands scooped a £10,000-a-month-for-one-year prize on the new game – and celebrated with a meal at Nando's.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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