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When I saw the first adverts a couple of months ago for a new “Health Lottery”, I thought it must be some kind of heavy-handed satire—a poor cousin of the Life Neutral poster campaign at this year's DSEI arms fair. The Health Lottery turned out to have been set up by Murdoch-wannabe Richard Desmond, which was hardly a better outcome.

The fact that this scheme was Desmond's baby should have piqued my curiosity and I'm kicking myself that I didn't go and look it up properly. Never mind that instead of the 50p in the pound that's usual for lotteries, the Health Lottery gives only 20p in the pound to its chosen good causes—rules on compliance and transparency mean that barely five minutes of internet research confirms what Lord Faulkner said in the Lords last Monday:
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: … is [the Minister] aware of the great concern that has been expressed by the beneficiaries of legally run society lotteries in the health sector, which have benefited immensely from those local society lotteries, about what is seen as the unfair competition from the Health Lottery?... Secondly, notwithstanding what the Gambling Commission may have decided initially about the Health Lottery's legality, how can it be legal to have 51 community interest companies linked to the Health Lottery which have no independent existence, but which all have the same three directors and all operate out of the same virtual office? How is that legal? [Hansard]
Sure enough, the Health Lottery's “About us” page carries a truly Orwellian list of names of the 51 “local” lotteries it funds: HealthEngage (Dumfries, Gallowayshire etc); HealthBelief (Northants, Leicestershire); HealthBright (Solihull & Birmingham); HealthAble (Cumbria and Northumberland); HealthImprove, HealthWhole, HealthControl, HealthTotal, HealthPerfect, HealthWisdom, HealthLevel etc, all of them operating out of “Suite 15799”, 145-157 St John Street, London. The websites that I've looked at are pretty much identical and this is a typical compliance page.[1]

The government's response was, characteristically, to say that this was nothing to do with the government but was entirely under the oversight of the Gambling Commission, which was content to issue a licence to the Health Lottery in the first place. However, the minister was at great pains, with a nod, a wink and a judicious phrase, to point out that the commission is due to report in the spring on whether it is content that the Health Lottery is not a massive and insulting scam[2], and “the government are monitoring the situation”.

Until the commission reports and we discover whether or not “Suite 15799” is after all a more effective provider than the state in meeting local health needs, should you be grasped by the urge to play some kind of good-cause-related lottery, please bear in mind that there might be one or two more deserving causes than the man who owns the Daily Star.

[1] Highlight: “Grants are sometimes made in instalments to ensure all money is being used for the intended purpose.” In other words, although we might appear only to have spent £3.50 on some aspirin, we're actually just waiting for the moment to release the second tranche of funding. Just you wait. Any minute now. Any... minute...

[2] Not the Gambling Commission's actual wording.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 5th, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
This is the best stock photo of the lot, I think:

(from Bedford, Luton, Central Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire)
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
I have to say the autogenerated local lottery companies remind me of Manfred's Agalmic Holdings in Charles Stross' Accelerando. Headless corporate entities, written in python, replicating across the net, dragging stock photos behind them...
Dec. 7th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
I missed the stock photo angle, I'll admit. But I'm making notes for $EVIL_CO in the next-but-one book, and that's a very good one. Maybe if they also drag software generated fake internet IDs around to astroturf the deafening chorus of positive reviews and consumer reports? Sort of like a robot version of the 50 Cent Party?

Dec. 7th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Crappy odds too.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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