The great Olympic personal risk bubble

Clockwise from left: Tom Daley, a woman with credit cards, Usain Bolt, and cyclists

Entries for the London 2012 Olympics lottery have closed, and it's clear some people have gone for many events to avoid drawing a blank. But if they get everything could they be left with a bill of thousands?

Right. The 100m with Usain Bolt. Click. And the opening ceremony. Click. Tom Daley diving and Victoria Pendleton cycling. Click click.

Lots of people will also be applying for these events, so how about adding, um, the canoe slalom preliminary rounds? Click. The men's shot put - at least I'll be in the stadium. Click. Click click. Click.

With the final bill only defined by the outcome of next month's lottery for oversubscribed events, it's all too easy to get carried away.

And when payment is taken next month, some will be in for a nasty surprise if they've won more than expected. Nor will they know for which events until 24 June, and they won't be able to offload unwanted tickets until the official resale portal opens in early 2012.

Start Quote

People bet big and hope to win small”

End Quote Matt Bath, Which?

The organisers insist that, throughout the process, they have urged the public to only bid what they can afford. But anecdotal accounts suggest many risk overstretching themselves.

One person worried about this is Ruth, who has applied for £22,000 worth of tickets.

"What my husband decided was the chances of getting tickets would be low, so we applied to get our 20 lots, and he got his sister to do it and his dad to do it. So we've applied for all these tickets using up three people's quotas," she told BBC Radio 5 live.

Carried away to the tune of £4,500

Athletics fan Cameron Duncan, who lives in London, is desperate to see the 100m but has also applied for tennis, gymnastics, diving and boxing.

"I had a rough plan of what I wanted to buy, but I did get carried away. I bought back-ups for each event but they're not really back-ups as you could get them all. I also went for a wider price range than I envisioned.

"I was a bit shocked at the end when I totted up what I'd put myself down for. It was an escalation though - as I went along I kept thinking 'oh it doesn't matter, just go for it' and it built up along the way."

He plans to resell any duplicate tickets he gets, and will get family and friends to take any spares.

"We're a family of four so we've applied for about 240 tickets. We're just really hoping that we won't get them all."

The ticketing system is akin to reverse gambling, says Matt Bath, the technology editor at Which?

"People bet big and hope to win small."

Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Organising Committee, says most people have been "generally sensible" about their ticket buying. "We have made it clear from the beginning that you should only apply for and budget for the tickets you can afford, and I think that's what people have generally done."

Dinesh Ranasinghe, from London, says he did not get carried away, despite applying for £20,000 worth of tickets.

Empty seats at a Beijing 2008 event Organisers want to avoid scenes like this from Beijing

"It was very well planned, I have spread the money across seven credit cards with the majority on two interest free credit cards so I will not have to pay interest. I did know what I was getting into and I have carefully planned my finance around it."

He admits he cannot actually remember how many tickets he has tried for but has applied for sessions more than once to increase the chance of getting tickets as his "worst case scenario" would be to get no tickets for the "dream show".

"I have carefully planned for 'getting all' as we can re-sell tickets via the dedicated Olympics web next year I think I would be able to survive... also, my friends have shown great interest to join me if I win more than required."

Consumer organisations have some concerns.

Winning the 'lottery'

  • Fans find out what tickets they have by 24 June
  • Prices range from £20 to £2,012 per event
  • The top fee is for the opening ceremony, with up to £725 for the 100m final and £50-£325 for track cycling finals
  • People have been limited to 20 events each
  • Ticket sales could raise £400m
  • The resale portal opens at start of 2012
  • Unsold tickets will have further ballots
  • Some high-profile events could have more tickets released as capacities are finalised

"I would say that everyone I've spoken to, it's been the morning after the night before. They've all got an Olympic tickets hangover," says Bath. "That's the thing with lotteries, people tend to bet more than they can afford. We're hearing stories of people putting down £2,000, £3,000, even £5,000. If they win them all, I think they're going to be in for a massive shock."

Many say they became caught up in the Olympic spirit. After applying for events they'd particularly like to attend, they worry that they might not get these tickets, and add less popular events.

"But these are less likely to be oversubscribed, and they are more likely to get tickets for those events," says Bath. And it won't be until 2012 that they can start getting rid of them.

It's "mood" spending, says former bank manager Brian Capon, of the British Bankers' Association.

"The excitement, anticipation and desire to be part of one of the greatest international sporting events in the world focuses people's mind on the goal rather than the consequences."

Tickets were sold via a lottery system for the Games in Beijing and Athens too, but with one crucial difference. People were told which events they'd been allocated before having to pay for the tickets.

This will be our summer holiday

Peter Day from Camberley knew exactly how much he was willing to spend - £2,500.

"We have decided this is about the same price as a fortnight for four in Spain so it will be our holiday for next year. We're going to the Olympics instead."

"My family and I sat down and worked out which tickets we wanted, decided on a price and worked out the total before submitting our entry."

"We used spreadsheets to decide which tickets to buy and at what price. We have avoided the cheapest tickets so we hope to stand a better chance of getting what we have applied for."

"That's why some events were so poorly attended," says Bath. "The 2012 system has been created to encourage people to opt for as many tickets as possible. By taking the money first - and making the tickets only resaleable through the official portal - people are committing to attend. That's good news for the organising committee."

There has been plenty of advice about the ticket buying process, but there has also been a lot of confusion - not least because the payment-first system is unfamiliar.

"I've had people saying they had no idea they couldn't sell their unwanted tickets," says Bath. "It may be that the Olympic committee has not been as clear as they think they've been. And people get caught up in the enthusiasm."

For those in line for a hefty credit card bill, is there any recourse?

"No. The terms and conditions are all there," says Bath. "The only thing you can do is make sure you've got the overdraft limit or the cash in your account to cover it. That, and hold on to any unwanted tickets and really hope you can find a buyer for them once the resale portal reopens."

London view
  • Sport, news and more 2012 information

In the meantime, he says, that money will apparently be gathering interest in the organisers' account.

But the organisers insist that this is the right way to sell tickets. "We looked at all sorts of different ways to do this," says Deighton. "This was the fairest possible way for giving people a chance to apply for all the tickets they might want to think about it in terms of their budgets and assess their own probabilities of getting them."

Below is a selection of your comments.

"I booked up to max four tickets for six different events and within the two lowest bands. It provides me with a bill of anything between £600 and (worst case scenario) £1250. Although I can afford that, I have to admit that it seems excessive right now. However, I'm 100% certain that any ticket will be worthwhile the money spend... it's like going away on a summer holiday in my own backyard."

Mark Kelder, London

"I am 50 on 4 August 2012 so have applied for athletics tickets for that day. We also live round the corner from Jess Ennis so we want to see her win gold. That's all I want for my birthday so I will be really upset if I end up watching it on the TV. I think I will still go down to the Olympic Park and watch it on a big screen outside if I'm not lucky enough to get tickets. We have ordered tickets to the value of £2980.48 so fingers crossed!

Sally Freeman, South Yorks

"My partner and I applied for about £900 worth of tickets. While we can afford this, we did so because we were not expecting £900 worth of tickets. We want to be a part of the occasion and not miss out. We've already said that if we get all those tickets they'll have to be our birthday and Christmas presents for about the next three years! It does seem a very frustrating system. People who have tickets they don't want should be able to get rid of them sooner than 2012!

David Hall, London

"I've applied for four tickets, for each of 20 sessions, at a total of over £8,000. I've got three mates who have done the same, and other mates ready to take any spares. So if I get everything, I can offload three quarters of the exposure. Our strategy was to apply for the middle price tickets, on the theory that the corporates would hoover up the top priced, and the cheaper priced would be massively over subscribed."

Ian Charlton, London

"Myself and two other friends have only applied for tickets of events we would like to see, some obscure and some we feel would be quite popular. We all would love to see anything really but we did keep our discipline and have kept to a budget. Will we get all the tickets we applied for? Probably not but I'm confident we'll get some. I want the 2012 experience to be an enjoyable one, not burdened by debt. If we don't get anything at all or not as many as we hoped, there is always the resale portal."

Paul Walker, Runcorn

"I have applied for over £3,000 worth of tickets and would love to get all of them - like others it would be my holiday for next year (albeit an expensive holiday!). I went to Beijing and it was a bit depressing when some of the stadiums were empty so I really hope this means that most things will be sold out. I'm more stressed out by the sheer number of people who applied for tickets and the fact that I might not get any. Having gone all the way to Beijing to support the GB team it'll be very rubbish if I don't get to go as much in my home city!"

Helena Sedgwick, London

"The starting odds for getting tickets to events such as medal athletic sessions are so low we have applied for potentially £15,000 worth of tickets. Come back to me in June and I bet we'll have actually secured less than £400 worth of tickets."

Angie May, London

"I applied for the full 20 lots as did everyone I know. I don't expect to be successful in all of the lotteries. If I do have that luck I will infact be very unlucky because I will be double booked and broke. Nevertherless my wife and I wanted to see at least one event and putting in applications for 20 sessions ( given the anouncements of massive demand ) seems the best way of seeing an event."

Richard Bartram, London

"We applied for tickets, but certainly didn't choose any of the prime events because of the costs. We want to take our young boys, but had to balance that with the costs of a buying for family of four. There were a few events with family friendly pricing, but they tended to be early heats and at hours when most people would have to leave very early or get home late to attend (not great with young children).

Matt Steel, Horsham

"I have applied for tickets to the 2012 Olympic games, however I have only applied for events which I feel I will give me the most enjoyment for what I can afford and hope we get tickets. It is a bit of a lottery, but I think that adds to the excitement, like receiving exam results. Yes people could get caught up in the excitement, but being sensible and only applying for what you can afford will hopefully prove to work."

Tom Webb, Northampton

"I have applied for my full 20 sessions and have applied for 10 sessions via my girlfriend. I think it's the only sensible way to go if you want to see anything. I have missed out many times before at the Manchester Commonwealth Games, Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the Sydney Olympics. In those games I just picked two or three events I really wanted to see and could afford but in all cases I was unlucky in the lottery. So this time I have bought as many tickets in the lottery as possible knowing full well I wont receive many if any of them."

Christian , Birmingham

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