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Man Wins Wife in Lottery and Other Lottery Scandals

UK lotteries have had more than their fair share of scandal over the years. Team Jackpot have searched through the archives to bring you the top tales of lottery scandal, deceit and corruption.


27 Jan 2015

Scandal, corruption, fraud and deceit are all words we are all well-accustomed to hearing on a daily basis in the modern world. Whether it be in the realm of business, politics, government, sport or relationships; there are always people looking to cheat and exploit others.

Over the past 12 months in gambling, we have seen poker pro Phil Ivey lose a high profile court case, Ben Affleck banned from a casino for card counting and a constant string of stories involving cheating, addiction and deception. With technology as it is, these stories are well documented and spread like wildfire. But what about gambling scandals before the days of the internet and Twitter?

At Jackpot.co.uk, we headed down to the archives to investigate the gambling scandals of times gone by. After cleaning off the dust and blowing away the cobwebs we found a gem of a book from 1893 detailing the history of UK lotteries. We’ve collated the highlights of John Ashton’s book, which include tales of weird and wonderful lotteries as well as stories about lottery scammers and ne’er-do-wells. We’ve also included some original lottery handbills from yesteryear.

Servant swindles MP for £27,000

Pickpocket illustration
Credit: Bobarno

Lotteries in their early forms provoked much debate, with some seeing them as profitable government money-makers and others viewing them as games that exploited the working class. In his book, Ashton makes clear ‘…almost every crime that be imagined had been occasioned, either directly to indirectly, through the baneful influence of lotteries’.

The dark side of the lottery reared its ugly head in 1787 when a British Member of Parliament named Francis unexpectedly lost £200 (equivalent to £27,400 today). Francis had entrusted the money to a female servant to pay various tradesmen’s bills. Instead, the servant lost the entire amount buying lottery tickets. Things then took a turn for the worse when the servant was mysteriously found dead a week after the revelations surfaced.

The Marriage Lottery

Kelly Brook lottery advert
Credit: The National Lottery

One of the strangest stories in Ashton’s book involves ‘a very curious lottery’ where a man would win a wife as his prize in a bi-annual lottery drawing.

Every May and December six girls who attended Raines School, and were brought up in the parish of St. George in London, UK would draw lots to decide which of them would marry a pre-selected bachelor. The lucky lady would also receive £100 (equivalent to £19,000 today) and a handbag, in addition to the large church wedding. The unfortunate losers of the lottery were encouraged to enter themselves again for future draws until they finally won the matrimonial prize.

The marriage lottery was set up by Henry Raine, a wealthy British brewer, who founded the school by the same name. Contestants in the marriage lottery were described by Raine to ‘come trembling with hope’ and the winners would ‘burst out into tears with excess of joy’. The practice of the marriage went on for well over 100 years and Raine’s lottery was labelled ‘objectionable’ and criticised for the ‘bitter disappointment’ it caused until it finally ended at the turn of the 20th century.

Freaks of Nature lottery

Cyclops cat
Credit: Freaking News

The year 1784 saw the lottery for the Leverian collection; an enormous assortment of natural history pieces acquired from the voyages of Captain James Cook. After the owner, Ashton Lever, went bankrupt and failed to sell the collection to the Empress of Russia or The British Museum he received permission to sell it off in a lottery.

The Leverian collection featured many animal oddities, which included: a double headed calf, an eight legged pig, a hare with 7 legs, a cyclops kitten and a puppy with two mouths. Despite the uniqueness of Lever’s collection, the lottery was a flop; selling under a quarter of the expected tickets. The lottery was won by a doctor who also was made bankrupt and forced to auction off the same items several years later.

Lottery fraudster walks away with £3.7 million

Lottery illustration
Credit: Leadenhall Press

The British government changed their minds on both private and state lotteries on numerous occasions; sometimes deciding to ban and legalise lotteries in the same year. The main reason cited for wanting to ban private lotteries was the fraudulent practices which were rife in the country at the time.

Lottery officer Peter Leheup was at the centre of an inquiry by the House of Commons in 1754 into his suspected fraudulent behaviour. It emerged that Leheup had given large numbers of tickets to fictitious people and had been pocketing the winnings. Leheup was found guilty and fined £1,000 (equivalent to £94,000 today) which would seem like a hefty price to pay if it weren’t for the fact that the scam made him the equivalent of £3.7 million in today’s money.

Scotland gives government the middle finger

Mel Gibson as Braveheart
Credit: 20th Century Fox

In 1826, the British government gave in to mounting pressure to stop all state and private lotteries but not before one final lottery could be drawn. The so called ‘Death of the Lottery’ was promoted relentlessly in the weeks prior to the draw. Ashton writes, ‘Men paraded the streets with large printed placards on poles, or pasted on their backs announcing “All Lotteries End for Ever! 18th July”‘.

After the drawing of the last lottery in 1826, there wasn’t a lottery in England until Prime Minister John Major approved a state-franchised lottery in 1993. However, North of the border, in Glasgow, Scotland they refused to accept the 1826 ban issued by parliament and continued with the lottery for a further decade.

Lottery Posters of Times Gone By

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