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‘Gateway to gambling’ fears raised over council-run lotteries like those in West Norfolk and Breckland

Concerns have been raised that council-run lotteries, like the ones in West Norfolk and Breckland, are providing a “gateway to gambling”.

According to the BBC’s Shared Data Unit, one in six councils in the country are now running lotteries.

Records from the Gambling Commission show that more than 60 active lotteries are being run by local authorities, including both West Norfolk Council and Breckland Council which launched theirs in 2018.

Launch of West Norfolk Wins Lottery at the Council Chamber. (38973581)
Launch of West Norfolk Wins Lottery at the Council Chamber. (38973581)

These weekly lotteries are registered with the Gambling Commission and run by a private company, Gatherwell, which operates them in a different way to the National Lottery.

Players pay £1 online each week and select a line of six numbers. There is a jackpot of £25,000 at a million to one odds, with smaller cash prizes or vouchers also on offer.

For the majority of draws run by Gatherwell, including West Norfolk and Breckland’s, 60 per cent of every ticket supports charities or community projects. This compares to roughly 25 per cent of the ticket cost for the National Lottery.

Experts say although weekly lotteries were a “low risk” form of gambling, there was no such thing as “no risk”.

Chris Hill, who previously recovered from a gambling addiction, said councils should be “more responsible” in their fundraising and look elsewhere to raise cash.

“They should be looking at the long term effects of this and whether this is a gateway to further gambling,” he said.

The Gambling Commission classes lotteries as “low risk products”. Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University agrees.

He said: “Low risk doesn’t mean no risk, particularly for those people who are spending far more than they can afford. But in effect, in terms of riskiness there’s very little risk, it’s like a raffle, weekly lotteries are on the end of the scale of problem gambling activities.”

A West Norfolk Council spokesperson said West Norfolk Wins has 517 players, with an average of just under two tickets each – there have been 113 draws to date.

There are 62 causes on the site which can benefit from the lottery.

Since it started, the lottery has raised £23,982 for the council to allocate via Financial Assistance and £56,102 for good causes.

Elizabeth Nockolds, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for culture, heritage and health, said: “We introduced the lottery, as have many other councils, to help local good causes raise much-needed funds without having to each set up their own lottery.

“With the West Norfolk Wins lottery, players cannot make a spur-of-the-moment purchase.

"They have to go on line and buy tickets in blocks, and not one off purchases.

"The draws take place weekly so there is no immediate win, which reduces the risk of addiction.

"In order to run the lottery we have to be members of the Gambling Commission, and, as part of this membership, funds are diverted to ’Gamble Aware’ to help those with gambling addiction.”

A Breckland Council spokesperson said their lottery helps raise funds for and awareness of community groups, charities and sporting associations.

It has now raised around £92,000 across 80 organisations, with a further £10,000 distributed to food banks.

The spokesperson added that their lottery is considered low risk as it does not offer ‘instant wins’, meanwhile ticket purchases are monitored so anyone with more than 20 active tickets would be contacted. The average ticket purchase is two tickets per person.

“Playing our lottery offers the opportunity for local residents to not only have a chance to win a prize, but more importantly support local charities, who now, more than ever, need our support to continue their excellent work within our communities.”

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