In the blue corner it’s Julian ‘The Dark’ Knight, MP for Solihull and the chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
In the red corner we have Andrew ‘the Regulator’ Rhodes, the interim chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission.
Why are they fighting? A difference of opinion has boiled over, and now it’s gotten personal….
As you may be aware, the Commission is responsible for managing the licensing of the National Lottery, the British institution approaching its thirtieth year in operation.
That means they have a say in who operates the various lottery draws, giving their recommendation to the government, who ultimately has the final verdict.
Due to the pandemic, the contest to reveal the next licence holder for the National Lottery – which should have been taking place imminently – has now been delayed until February 2022.
The knock-on effect is that the new licence won’t commence until February 2024 – and that has been the main gripe of Knight as he crusades for justice for the National Lottery.
Camelot On Rocky Ground?
Do you know what the six-month delay to issuing the new National Lottery means from a monetary perspective?
It means Camelot will trouser an extra £42 million in revenue, and that’s assuming they aren’t chosen as the operator that gets to run the lottery from 2024 onwards – they have already thrown their hat into the ring.
No wonder than Knight is spitting feathers!
That’s not all either. It has been reported that while the Camelot Group have enjoyed enhanced profits – they made £39 million between 2010 and the present day – the amount of money being poured into good causes, which is one of the fundamentals of the lottery, has fallen.
Already the kickback has started. Meg Hillier, the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said of the bombshell: “Raising money for good causes is one of the founding principles of the National Lottery, but this objective is under threat.
“It would be sad and significant loss to many deserving organisations and individuals if that funding, which has amounted to some £37 billion since 1994, should dissipate as a result of inaction now.”
It has led some to privately question why the Commission and Camelot seem to be so intrinsically on the same page, and the regulator’s decision to go on the offensive against Knight – who authorised an independent inquiry into how they have handled the licensing process – hardly does anything to dampen the fire.
A Fight to the Death?
As Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee chair, Julian Knight does wield some additional powers that ‘normal’ ministers are unable to use.
Of those, he is able to order independent inquiries into anything related to his cultural or sporting remit – which he has done for everything from a Panorama interview with Princess Diana to banks that charge excessive fees to people that exceed their overdraft limit.
He’s been at it again, and just a couple of weeks ago confirmed he wanted to take a look at how the Commission has handled the National Lottery tendering process.
“Our concern is not only with the operation of the competition to find the next operator, but also with the Gambling Commission that is overseeing the process,” Knight said. “Crucially, we’ll be asking what measures will be in place to ensure that when profits rise, it’s not just the operator that benefits, but good causes too.”
But here’s where things get tasty, with Andrew Rhodes entering the ring. He believes that any inquiry would be counter-intuitive, as it would reveal sensitive information provided by the firms in the running for the new licence – while undermining the fair competition of it all.
Rhodes penned a letter to Knight, and in it he wrote that an investigation would ‘pose significant risk to the integrity of the competition’ if the DMCS were to intervene. He would also ask to offer evidence to any inquiry at a later stage.
Knight….well, he wasn’t having any of that. He claims that the Commission is ‘overstepping its remit’ by acting in such a way, and claimed that Rhodes’ sidestepping was akin to a ‘contempt of parliament.’ There is also a possibility that he will call up key officials from the regulator and get them to explain themselves in front of his committee.
Let’s get ready to rumble!