This week convicted rapist Iorworth Hoare (currently nearing the end of a 'life' sentence) won £7 million on the lottery. How, screamed the media, can this be right?
Well, the answer to that is that the little coloured balls are neither sentient nor clairvoyant. Number 1 (and all the other balls) don't think to themselves 'If I go down the chute, some rapist is going to win. I'm staying put.'
This point, and many others, seemed lost on the media, which generally went a bit barmy. Sky News yet again demonstrated its commitment to inane questioning. In a live link with a reporter at the Asda branch where Hoare may have bought his ticket, the studio presenter asked if Asda had any 'checks' on who was allowed to buy a ticket. Looking slightly sheepish, the reporter said they don't.
Well of course they don't. Nor should they. Legally, the only limitation on buying a lottery ticket is that you have to be 16. Even if there were restrictions on who could buy lottery tickets, how the hell would the harassed Asda staff on the fag counter check? Would they have access to the police criminal database?
Anyway, the government wasn't slow to heed the call of the outraged media. Culture secretary Tessa Jowell said the government might intervene to make sure Hoare's windfall went to his victims. David Blunkett got in on the act, too, saying there would be new laws to stop criminals collecting lottery winnings.
What the hell is going on here? OK, the very idea of a rapist having an amazing stroke of good luck offends our desire for life to be fair. And maybe life should mean life for Hoare, who has a string of sex offences behind him. But that's a separate issue.
What is the point (apart from the naked populism) of the government using valuable legislative time to outlaw incredibly rare events like criminals netting big lottery wins?
It also raises some strange moral issues. Are all criminals going to be barred from playing the lottery? Surely they're being punished already? The idea of criminals compensating their victims makes sense, but what has this got to do with the lottery? Most criminals aren't lottery winners. And most criminals, however horrible or anti-social their crimes, just don't have the money to compensate their victims.
What people seem unwilling to accept is that the lottery is just hat: a lottery. It doesn't reward good people. It sometimes benefits the needy, but only because so many lotto players do so out of financial desperation.
In a perfect world, the lottery is just a bit of fun, a few minutes excitement, and that's it. But in reality the lottery is a shabby little scam, encouraging the most desperate members of society to spend too much on it, offering false hope where there is none.
Even Camelot is aware of this, and has deployed its PR people to churn out some weasel words about how well-regulated the various lottery games are. On the National Lottery website, Camelot proclaims:
'Camelot recognises that the need for promoting responsible play starts at the very beginning, when a game is being designed. Therefore Camelot has introduced a research and design tool - the Game Design protocol - that allows us to classify a new game as having a high, medium or low potential for there to be excessive play among vulnerable players (namely low income groups and people with a tendency to gamble) or illegal play (children aged under 16). By classifying the games we can decide a suitable course of action which could include amending the launch structure or even deciding not to launch the game.'
Did you notice the use of the word 'could' there? But there's a more fundamental problem: whatever the lottery game, noone, least of all Camelot, can actually STOP 'vulnerable' players wasting their time, money and lives on their tacky games of chance.