There was a time when talk of rollovers and jackpots dominated the nation's living rooms, but after yet another relaunch for the ailing game, Nick Morrison looks at why we have fallen out of love with the National Lottery.

DOING it twice a week couldn't keep us interested; Thunderball proved to be just a passing storm; Christmas specials lost their sparkle, and Billy Connolly's purple beard just left us seeing red. Now, it's up to the Olympics to rekindle our love affair with the National Lottery.

Yesterday, Camelot unveiled a series of new games, many of them with an Olympic theme. A game costing just 1p to play - with daily prizes of up to £25,000 - and twice yearly bumper jackpots, are among the schemes aimed at raising £750m towards staging the Olympics in 2012, if London's bid is successful.

But onlookers could be forgiven for thinking this cavalcade of competitions is not so much about national pride, as a desperate attempt to inject a bit of life into the Lottery.

From a peak of around £100m a week in sales in 1998, the renamed Lotto and its various offshoots, including Thunderball, HotPicks and Lotto Extra, now take in around £88m a week. While the first Christmas Millionaire game saw £37.7m staked in 2001, last year it fell to just under £25m, and just five people each won £1m, compared with ten the previous year.

And these falling sales have an impact on the amount of money passed on to good causes. Camelot's promise of raising £15bn over the life of its seven-year licence, which helped it to beat off competition to run the game from Richard Branson, has now been revised to £10.5bn.

The Lottery's reputation has also been tarnished by a series of controversial hand-outs made by the Community Fund, most notably a £340,000 grant to the Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigners, as well as criticism over paying hefty bonuses to executives. All this has helped diminish public support for the game.

And if this were not enough, Billy Connolly's exhortation for us to 'Live a Lotto' proved highly irritating to viewers, with the result that a £70m advertising campaign was pulled three months early.

It's all a far cry from the days when National Lottery fever gripped the nation: when Saturday evenings were spent holding a quivering slip of paper in front of the television and a reporter on The Sun changed his name to Lenny Lottery, reflecting the new obsession.

To some extent, the end of our love affair with the Lottery is a natural consequence of the game losing its novelty value, but the seeds of its decline were present in its flowering success, according to Dr Joan Harvey, chartered psychologist at Newcastle University.

"The very thing that got people to rush along and buy tickets in the beginning, the whopping big prizes, is the thing that makes it tail off," she says. "These prizes are relatively rare occurrences, and when we don't know anybody who has won, our interest dries up."

The National Lottery's original slogan, 'It Could Be You', was recognised as being a trifle optimistic by Camelot chief executive Dianne Thompson last year. "People have realised that though 'it could be you', it probably won't be," she said. It has been seen as an own goal on the lines of Gerald Ratner saying that one of the items sold in his jewellery shops was 'crap', but it also acknowledges that many people think they have more chance of seeing Lord Lucan ride Shergar home in the Derby than of winning the jackpot.

For Dr Harvey, Camelot's mistake has been to concentrate on offering bigger and bigger prizes. They might be alluring, but many people know they have little prospect of winning.

"I think they should introduce a new regime of lower level prizes, say £50,000. Personally, I would rather win £11m, but that doesn't happen very often, and £50,000 would be very nice," she says.

"Also, I'm not entirely sure that people differentiate between £11m and £5m, unless the prizes are split ten ways. There might be a rollover of £20m, but who cares, because you're not going to win it? And what are you going to do with the extra £9m? We have no concept of what £11m and that £9m extra will mean to us.

"If we see that somebody in our street has won, then we might be more interested, but at the moment we have got these very big prizes that are very rare, and people have got bored."

The switch to smaller prizes, with a greater chance of winning, is supported by Dr Sandy Wolfson, psychology lecturer at Northumbria University.

Dr Wolfson, who carried out research when Camelot launched its midweek draw, says that far from thinking it gave them an extra chance to win, many people saw it as an imposition.

"They didn't really want to play it, but they felt they had to. The people who kept the same numbers week after week could anticipate how awful it would be if their numbers came up and they hadn't played" she says.

"To make matters worse, the Lottery largely depends on giving people images of what they're going to do with the money. After a few years and not getting anything but the odd £10, they very quickly realise they're not really in the running. People saw that the money was being squandered on massive prizes for very few people."

And for those who have won £10, their overriding feeling is not so much one of being grateful for small mercies, but annoyed that their allocation of good luck has been used up for such a piffling amount.

Dr Wolfson says that although £50,000 is unlikely to change anybody's life, it gives them enough of an incentive to keep playing, if they believe they have a realistic chance of winning.

For Camelot, there is comfort in the fact that the pattern of initial interest falling off is to be found in other national lotteries, with the solution in the introduction of more games, even though these have been criticised as confusing in the past.

But, with its Olympic games, and a pan-European lottery offering prizes of up to £35m, Camelot is staking everything on more games proving its saviour. Now that is a gamble.

The North-East's top Lottery winners

* Taxi driver Bob Frazer, from Newcastle, won £14,265,114 in April 2003.

* Digger driver Barry Moss, from Darlington, won £7,573,460 in July 2001.

* Undertaker's assistant John Miller, from Gateshead, won £5,460,505 in April 2001.

* Sylvia Iddon, from Wallsend, won £4,662,084 in March 1997.

* Carpet factory worker Dennis Palmik, from Langley Park, won £4,317,519 in April 1998.

* Care assistant Anita Wynne, from Darlington, won £3,644,131 in July 2001.

* Deborah Pervis, from Newcastle, won £3,037,927 in January 2003.

* Henry Thomas, from Seaham, won £2,657,056 in September 1996.

* Care worker Sue Hellewell, from Darlington, won £2,430,398 in August 1996.

* William Winlow, from Sunderland, won £2,214,494 in December 1997.