The Lottery is a bad bet for the poor, says report

By staff writers
July 30, 2009

The latest investigation into the impact of the National Lottery for those on low incomes and at the edges of society suggests that it is a bad deal for Britain's poor overall.

Based on a combination of public opinion polling undertaken by ComRes and an analysis of existing research into the Lottery, a newly published report by the thinktank Theos reveals that people in Britain's lowest socio-economic groups are more likely to play the lottery than the more affluent, but are less likely to benefit from lottery funding.

Defenders of the lottery say that it has significantly increased the 'pie' available to a range of charitable projects and deny that spending on lottery tickets has significantly hit other forms of charitable giving.

But critics say that the distribution of resources through the lottery is not progressive (that is, not redistributive), that it creates an effective monopoly in some areas and that it can contribute to problem gambling.

Recently, Colin Cameron, author of You Bet - The Betfair Story: How two men changed the world of gambling commented that "the Lottery is the ultimate mug's punt", in that you will have more chance of being run over going to buy your ticket than you will of winning a really significant prize.

The new reports says that people in receipt of benefits are more likely to play scratch cards and draw-based games than those not on benefits. People who earn less than £20,000 a year spend on average £55.39 a year on scratch cards, compared with the national average of £44.18.

Paul Woolley, director of Theos, says the research adds to a "growing body of evidence" showing that Lottery players come from poorer backgrounds and spend significantly more than affluent players.

The analysis finds that despite people from lower socio-economic groups spending more on the Lottery, insufficient funding is invested back into Britain's deprived communities.

It points to the example of Blaenau Gwent, the poorest area in the UK, which ranks only 133rd in the amount of lottery funding it receives. Similarly, Bridgend, the UK's second poorest area ranks only 224th.

Woolley says National Lottery distributors had an obligation to ensure that all parts of the country have fair access to funds and that awards should be made "with a view to reducing economic and social deprivation".

"In reality, Lottery funding across all the streams – arts, sports, heritage and charitable expenditure – is insufficiently targeted on the communities that need it most," he adds.

"The Lottery might have created a new source of funding for projects that would otherwise have remained un-funded, but this has come with a high price tag for Britain's poor.

"This is about social justice. If the Lottery is to continue, it is essential that a greater proportion of funding is invested back into the communities from which it is taken."

"The old argument that the National Lottery is a 'tax' on the poor for the benefit of the middle classes may have some justification," concluded Woolley.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion, society and politics thinktank Ekklesia comments: "For some, buying a lottery ticket is a harmless flutter, albeit one with astonishingly poor odds attached to it. Most people would be far better keeping their money under the bed, saving for a really good night out or investing it in some social purpose - many ethical funds have done better than average recently.

"But the underlying issues go much deeper than the National Lottery itself. Through the 1980s and onwards, we have created a 'lottery society' more generally. Inequality has grown. A financial system based on large-scale gambling has produced insecurity and disaster as well as great wealth and the main political parties have colluded deeply in all this. They are in no position to moralise about gambling unless they are willing to contemplate a radical shift in their own values and aspirations.

"The Lottery is a fact of life. But we have a choice whether we participate or not. And we need an honest debate about its impact - not one dominated by the interests of industry on the one hand, and those who are against fun on the other," says Barrow.

"On the question of charities and churches taking lottery money, I think an approach based on a combination of principle and pragmatism is advisable. Some will be against in principle. Others might feel that they need to take some money because other options for funding a really vital cause have shrunk - but even so, they can and should bite the hand that feeds them. The rhetoric of a lottery is choice, but the reality is that it ends up leaving many with none. Social justice isn't about 'the luck of the draw'."


Background on recent gambling issues from Ekklesia:

Read more abut the analysis from Theos here:

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.