When the United Kingdom initiated its national lottery in 1994 (imaginatively called the National Lottery), it was accompanied by much tsk-tsk-ing at church. Here was another sign of national decadence, further proof that Babylon was in control of the land. Good Mormons would eschew such evil, etc.
That’s how I left it when I went on my mission in 1995. When I returned, one of the new developments in my town was a shiny new refurbishment of the theatre. The theatre had once been the home of George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar’s Malvern Festival, but had since lost some of that lustre. Now it had a new foyer and looked beautiful, all paid for via a grant from the National Lottery. Malvern Theatre is now one of the best provincial theatres in the country.
If you spend £1 on a National Lottery game, 50 pence (p) goes to prizes, 28p to ‘good causes’, 12p is tax, 5p goes to retailers, 4.5p is for operating costs and 0.5p is profit for the operator. ‘Good causes’ typically refers to arts and sport and so far around £30 billion has been distributed. The National Lottery has now become the main engine for such funding in the UK.
When I was a kid, Britain was a very different place than it is now. You expected regional theatres to be a bit manky and sporting success was sporadic. There was no money for such things and Margaret Thatcher was not going to provide it. Forward to 2012: Britain is taking names and kicking a*se at the Olympic Games. 22 golds and 48 medals (so far) is our best haul in the modern era. Some of that is due to being host, but if you compare it with pre-lottery Barcelona (5 golds, 20 medals) you begin to see the effect of lottery funding on sport in the UK.
Take British cycling, the recipient of millions of pounds of lottery funding. Nine golds were available on the track, “Team GB” won seven. Consider also Bradley Wiggins’ triumph in the Tour de France and the Time Trial. That’s the product of hard work and talent for sure, but also money, lots of it. The National Lottery provides much of that money.
As I see my British Mormon friends celebrate British sporting success on FB, I wonder if they are aware that they are unconsciously celebrating the National Lottery. The lottery represents a voluntary tax for the benefit of arts and sport and the colossal funds it raises means that it is an effective way of distributing this money. Yes, half of the money goes to the prize fund, but the high prizes are necessary to ensure participation. One might argue that if I directly donated 28p to sporting non-profits this would be better, but human nature being what it is, people are much more likely to donate 28p if they think they might win £1 million.
Conclusion: if you want to support the arts and sport in the UK, you could do worse than to play the National Lottery.
I am aware, of course, of this statement from the Handbook:
Gambling and Lotteries
The Church opposes gambling in any form, including government-sponsored lotteries.