19 November 1994: The first National Lottery draw

Twenty years ago today, 22 million people watched in hopeful anticipation as the National Lottery made its first draw.

Noel Edmonds
Noel Edmonds made the first draw
(Image credit: © Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

“Release the balls!” On this day in 1994, in a one-hour TV extravaganza hosted by Saturday evening TV institution Noel Edmonds, 18-year-old Deborah Walsh pressed the button that inaugurated the UK's National Lottery. 22 million people watched as the numbers were called: in ascending order, they were 3, 5, 14, 22, 30, 44, and the bonus ball was number 10.

The frequency of draws was doubled in February 1997 when a Wednesday draw was added. The use of the same range of numbers 1-49 was controversial, as it encouraged people to play who might otherwise not have, in case “their” numbers came up. Some wanted numbers 51-99 to be used instead.

The odds of winning are, famously, 14 million to one (actually 13,983,816 to one). But in that first week, seven people shared the jackpot, scooping £839,254 each.

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However, this was not England's first National Lottery. That took place on 11 January 1569. In 1566 Queen Elizabeth instructed Sir John Spencer to set up a lottery to raise funds to be "employed to good and public acts and beneficially for our realm and our subjects". 400,000 tickets were sold at ten shillings a pop for the chance of a £5,000 jackpot. Other prizes included immunity from arrest for a week, and free entry to libraries. Collectors got sixpence a ticket.

And in 1694, the English State Lottery was launched. Also called the “Million Lottery”, 100,000 tickets were sold at £10 each, partly to fund war against France (who else?).

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

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