What is Happening with the National Lottery? Camelot Fight Dirty in Bid to Retain Licence

National Lottery Sign

Credit: Icenando / bigstock

As of 2023, Camelot’s licence to operate and run the UK National Lottery draw will come to an end, and in the meantime the Gambling Commission will need to decide who gets the nod as their successor.

That’s not to say that Camelot aren’t fighting tooth and nail to hang on to the licence they have owned since 1994, however, and they have been accused of a dirty tricks campaign designed to persuade decision-makers that they should be allowed to continue.

The firm has been taking out a series of advertisements lately, including a spread in The House magazine, which is available only to MPs and staff at Westminster. The accusation is that they are trying to curry favour among ministers, who might have some influence over the Commission’s final licensing decision.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm have already made their grievances known to the Commission, and the likes of Carolyn Harris MP and Richard Holden MP are concerned that Camelot is promoting ‘initiatives that appear to conflate its role as operator’ – including partnerships with the Daily Mail and ITV.

According to the Evening Standard, a letter written by the Group and addressed to the Commission adds: “It’s unclear to us how an advertising campaign in The House Magazine….serves to promote the National Lottery in order to increase returns to good causes.”

“We fear this is creating an unfair process that threatens the credibility of the National Lottery and you as a regulator. We are fearful that if the competition continues to allow the incumbent to mislead audiences as to its role in relation to good causes, it will lead to a situation where Camelot is awarded the licence for a fourth time and no credible bidders will be forthcoming in future competitions.”

Who are Camelot?

Camelot Headquarters Watford

Camelot Head Office in Watford

It seems like a lifetime ago that Camelot outmanoeuvred Richard Branson in their bid to run the UK’s first National Lottery.

The Camelot Group has held that licence since 1994, winning two subsequent ‘competitions’ to maintain their grip on the various lottery products until 2023 at the earliest.

Based in Watford, they run the UK National Lottery and, bizarrely, the Illinois State Lottery in the US. The company is actually owned outright by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, who forked out £389 million for the privilege in 2011.

As well as being run as a profitable operation in its own right, the National Lottery has raised billions for charitable causes across the UK – this is a business model that the government is keen to see restored no matter who wins the licensing competition.

Who is in the Running for the New National Lottery Licence?

National Lottery licence Competition Website Screenshot

A website dedicated to the fourth National Lottery licence – www.4nlc.com – has been set up, although they have been quite sketchy in revealing details of who has applied for the competition.

Camelot are definitely in the running, and their chairman – Sir Hugh Robertson – is a former MP and the Chair of the British Olympic Committee. He has plenty of clout on Downing Street, and that is why his firm are expected to be hot favourites for a fourth stint as lottery operator.

It is believed that opposition might come from the Sazka Group, who have plenty of experience in running lottery draws across Europe. They have made a couple of high profile ‘signings’, with Sir Keith Mills – a key figure in securing the Olympic Games for London in 2012 – now on board.

Other potential entrants include the Sugal Group, a company that boasts lottery and gaming, warehousing, commodity brokering and I.T. management among its rather eclectic activities, and Damani of India. It has also been rumoured that Richard Desmond, former newspaper mogul and current operator of the UK Health Lottery, has thrown his hat into the ring.

The Gambling Commission will not be drawn on who is in the running, and a post on the 4NLC site states: “Since launching the fourth licence programme in November 2018, we have conducted an extensive programme of global market engagement through which we have spoken to many interested parties to help us develop our thinking on policy issues.

“Throughout our market engagement, we have been encouraged by a healthy level of interest from a range of different parties and we look forward to running a competitive process.”

When Will the New National Lottery Operator Be Announced?

Once the application deadline has passed, the Gambling Commission will vet the runners and riders before giving their opinion to the government, who will ultimately have the final say on who wins the contest.

In September 2021, we will know who has won the fourth ever licence to operate the UK National Lottery.