If the UK’s current—and hitherto only—lottery operator gets its way, there will always be a Camelot.
Blown away by the surprise March 15 announcement that its 28-year reign was near its end, Camelot–UK Lottery operators since the inception of the prize draw in 1994–has never accepted the legitimacy of the decision.
Almost immediately they launched legal proceedings to overturn the award of the lottery licence to Allwyn, a company owned by Czech billionaire Karel Komárek, a man who has since been accused of having unsavoury links to Russia’s state energy giant, Gazprom.
In figurative terms, Camelot–owned, somewhat incongruously, by the Canadian Ontario Teachers’ Union Pension Fund–has been fighting a bitter rear-guard campaign to hold on to the prize of running the UK Lottery.
Every little bit helps in their all-in, “mano-a-mano”, meat-grinder campaign to oust perceived usurpers Allwyn.
Now comes the news—favourable, one assumes, from Camelot’s perspective—that Allwyn, formerly known as Sazka, which runs lotteries in the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Austria, has hit another roadblock as it attempts to transform itself into a truly global operator:
Its proposed merger with Cohn Robbins, a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, designed to take Allwyn public on the New York Stock Exchange, with an enterprise value of US$9.3 billion (£7.38bn/€8.69bn), has been moved from the second quarter of this year to Q3.
Under the deal, Allwyn shareholders will hold 83 per cent of the new entity, the SPAC’s public shareholders will have 11 per cent and other private investors will hold the remaining percentile.
To date no explanation for the delay has been given.
Camelot, meantime, is pushing on with its legal challenge against the UK Gambling Commission, the betting industry’s regulatory body, who awarded Allwyn the new licence to run the National Lottery from 2024.
They claim that “despite lengthy correspondence, the commission has failed to provide a satisfactory response” as to why they, Camelot, were not awarded their fourth licence.
In April Alex Davies-Jones, Labour MP for Pontypridd and the Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, expressed “extreme concerns” in Parliament that Allwyn owner Karel Komárek has “links [to] the Russian regime”.
She was specifically referring to Komárek’s gas storage joint-venture with the Kremlin-controlled energy firm Gazprom in his native Czech Republic through one of his companies, called MND.
In answer, Chris Philp, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, assured Davies-Jones: “Anyone given a license meets the fit and proper person test”, as part of the license awarding process.
Komárek, for his part, has since condemned the invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s “barbarism”. Reportedly he is now working with the Czech government to nationalise the gas storage facility.
Responding to a query on the UK National Lottery licensing process, a Gambling Commission spokesperson said: “We are confident that we have run a fair and robust competition.”
But with a defining High Court legal decision not set until this October, it’s a competition that has yet to run its full course.