19 November 1994: The first National Lottery draw

‘Release the balls!’ Twenty years ago today, 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. Since then, 3,600 millionaires have been created, £53bn has been doled out in prize money, and £32bn has been raised for ‘good causes’.

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.

Also on this day

19 November 1967: Harold Wilson’s ‘pound in your pocket’ little white lie

On this day in 1967, Harold Wilson went on television to reassure viewers that the “pound in the pocket” would be unaffected by the devaluation of sterling. Read more here.