The National Lottery: a game of chance, not luck

Periodically the National Lottery issues press releases about which postcodes or areas of the country are “luckier” than others in winning the top lottery prize.

This is such a bizarre claim for anybody to make, leave alone the National Lottery, that it always has me scratching my head. If it’s possible for some areas to win consistently more prizes than their purchase of tickets warrants, then there is something wrong with the way the Lottery selects its winners. And that’s surely not something it should be boasting about?

The latest release, picked up on Tuesday by dozens of internet sites and local newspapers all over the country, says that the North East of England and Wales have topped a National Lottery League Table of “millionaire hotspots”. There are 164 National Lottery millionaires in the North East  and 179 in Wales – or that’s where they were living when they won the prize.

How does the lottery measure its lucky areas? By working out how many £1 million prizes have been won per adult population. Not, you notice, per adult lottery ticket buyers. So all that the map tells us is where the most tickets are sold per head of population. The more sales, the more winners, if the lottery operator Camelot is doing its job properly.

Of course there can be temporary clusters of winners in different areas that are simply the result of chance. But with 2,715 million-pound prizes awarded already, that effect will be smoothed out. By now the density of winners must represent the density of sales, near enough.

A National Lottery spokesman said: “The map shows that more millionaires have been created in London, the Midlands, and across the South East of England; however, statistically the North East is the luckiest part of the UK based on the number of winners versus the adult population.

“We are constantly asked what is the secret to winning, and everyone wants to know where is the luckiest shop, village, city and so on. This map gives a fascinating insight into the spread of our many millionaires and multi-millionaires around the UK but the fact remains anyone can win – it’s a lottery.”

Quite. The secret to winning is buying a ticket, not where you live. It would be interesting to compare a map of ticket sales against a map of winners, but all it would show is that, over a reasonable period of time, they were the same.

There’s no story in that, but there are dozens of stories in the nonsense the National Lottery puts out – the best areas, the worst areas (Northern Ireland, as it happens), and so on.

For what it’s worth, here’s the map as reproduced in the Mail online. The low figure recorded for Northern Ireland may be attributable to competition from the Irish Lottery, I would guess. Otherwise, the distribution of prizes reflects fairly well what is known about participation in lotteries, which is higher among lower socioeconomic  groups.


For example, a survey by ComRes for the thinktank Theos in 2008 found that 67 per cent of C2 respondents were regular participants in draw-based games, against 47 per cent of ABs and also that they tended to spend marginally more (£5.92 per week for C2s, vs £5.33 for ABs) The survey's detailed results found that participants in Scotland and Wales tended to spend more each month (£7.20 and £8.25 respectively) than the national average.

The top five regions in yearly spend, counting all respondents and not just participants, were (in order) Scotland, Wales, East of England, North East and Midlands (Table 13, p 40). Four of these regions also appear in the top five of Camelot’s millionaires’ map, which are (in order) North East, Wales, Yorkshire, East of England and Scotland. But the Theos survey has its limitations, covering a total of 1,019 respondents, so its regional breakdowns are based on small numbers.  

I can understand why the Lottery seeks publicity, to maintain sales. But I’m puzzled why so many media outlets slavishly publish it, when it contradicts the basic message that the Lottery stands for: every ticket has an equal chance.