A systems failure at the lottery operator Camelot caused terminals in shops to crash as they tried to issue tickets for the main Lotto draw and even halted Internet sales.
The dramatic reduction in takings for the post-Christmas draw caused the jackpot to be trimmed from the £4.2 million (US$6.1 million) estimated on Christmas Eve to £3.4m (US$5m).
Camelot apologized publicly after the problem which may also have prevented a potential jackpot winner from buying a ticket.
A single player won the £3.5m jackpot but has not yet come forward to claim his or her prize.
The glitch, which prevented machines in shops connecting with the central computer at lottery headquarters, put the terminals out of service early on Saturday afternoon.
They were not up and running at full speed until 6pm, after what would usually be a peak time for lottery ticket sales.
Would-be players were furious at missing out on the chance to win the holiday jackpot.
Tracey Birchall, 30, a trainee teacher from Bristol, said: "I'm absolutely gutted. What's going on?
"I wanted to play my usual numbers but I couldn't. It's so frustrating.
"It would have been nice to see in the new year with a lottery win."
She added that one determined player who attempted to buy a ticket in the same shop in Bristol had made a special journey from Stroud to do so as he did not realize that it was a nationwide problem.
"He was really furious and he was getting seriously annoyed with the shop staff," she said.
Carole Machin, the presenter of the BBC1 draw show National Lottery: In It To Win It, apologized to viewers at the start of the program.
"Due to a network communication issue this afternoon players may have experienced difficulties buying national lottery tickets in store or via the National Lottery Web site," she said.
"We would like to apologize to anyone affected."
Camelot said the "network communications issue" had resulted in either slower than normal transactions or retailers being unable to perform transactions at all.