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This report is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

In Hope of Fair Advantages Lawrence Sail

The lottery devised by Portia's father for her suitors, in The Merchant of Venice, involved only a choice of one out of three caskets, rather than six out of forty-nine numbers, but still proved too much for the Prince of Morocco, amongst other contenders. Discarding the possibility of the lead casket, he argued that 'This casket threatens; men that hazard all/Do it in hope of fair advantages'. His logic turned out to be fallacious, but you can see the point which made him go for gold rather than lead. I wonder what he, or, rather, Shakespeare would have said about our own National Lottery, which has generated any number of arguments. You may not recall where you were or what you were doing on the evening of 19 November 1994, when the first draw was made, but there is no doubt that, for better or worse, the Lottery has been a startling success in terms of the money raised, and has apparently established itself as part of our national life. Yet the debate about its virtues and shortcomings persists, taking up newspaper column inches which, one cannot help thinking wistfully, given the present dearth of poetry reviewing, might have been otherwise used.

I am writing this in the fourth week of March, and the number of pieces about the Lottery (essays and features, as well as news items) in broadsheet newspapers during this month alone is remarkable: so too is their variety. The Lottery has prevented prudent ...


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