National lottery: Richard Desmond takes legal action over licence award

Billionaire follows Camelot in high court bids to overturn decision to let Czech firm Allwyn run draw

Companies owned by the billionaire Richard Desmond have launched legal action against the UK’s gambling regulator’s decision to grant Czech-owned Allwyn the licence to run the National Lottery.

Desmond’s Northern & Shell and a subsidiary, the New Lottery Company, have taken legal action against the Gambling Commission, according to a high court filing dated 13 April – becoming the third party to challenge the award.

The commission announced Allwyn’s victory in the fourth competition for the highly lucrative National Lottery contract last month, putting an end to 27 years of unbroken operation by Camelot. Camelot made a net income of £730m in the year to March 2021 on revenues of £8.4bn from almost 10m players.

The current licence is scheduled to end in 2024, 30 years since the launch of the lottery in 1994.

However, Camelot, owned by a pension fund for Ontario teachers and its tech provider International Game Technology, have also launched high court actions to try to overturn the commission’s decision.

The competition was shrouded in secrecy, with code names used internally by the commission to prevent details of the judging process leaking.

Northern & Shell, which owns the Health Lottery, had not previously made its bid public, and there are no other publicly available details of the former porn baron’s procurement claim. The claimants are represented by law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, in a case first reported by the Financial Times.

Another bidder, Italian operator Sisal, which was bought during the competition by Paddy Power owner Flutter, is also considering joining Camelot’s action, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The Gambling Commission declined to comment on Northern & Shell’s action. When Camelot announced its action on 1 April the commission said: “The competition and our evaluation have been carried out fairly and lawfully in accordance with our statutory duties, and we are confident that a court would come to that conclusion.”

Allwyn is ultimately owned by the Czech billionaire Karel Komárek, and it already runs lotteries in the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and Austria. It hired prominent British businessmen to run its bid, including Sir Keith Mills, who ran London’s winning bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, and former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King.

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After winning the contract competition, Allwyn said it planned “to generate more money for good causes and the public purse” as well as stopping the “slide towards scratchcards and instant win games, giving due consideration to the wider societal impact these can have”.

It also said Camelot employees would “all be welcome to join us”. Camelot employs 1,000 people in Watford.

Allwyn and Northern & Shell were approached for comment.


Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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