Here Today, Heir Tomorrow, We’ll Always Have Camelot

In the second of his occasional columns, iGaming Future’s André Dubronski explores the race for the crown of British gambling.
Call it what you will, déjà vu; Groundhog Day; same old, same old; it seems there will always be a Camelot.

As the latest UK National Lottery licencing competition nears its shootout, the current operator, Camelot, remain the hot favourite to take—in their case retain–the crown of British gaming.

The Great Britain Gambling Commission has now confirmed that it has received four final applications for the latest licence — the fourth to be issued since the UK lottery was launched in 1994.

Only one company, Camelot—now owned, somewhat incongruously, by Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund–has run the British lotto since its inception.

In past licencing runs it has beaten off spirited competition from the likes of Richard Branson’s catch-all Virgin brand.

Today—although the commission has declined to confirm the names of the four bidding companies—it’s common knowledge that it’s facing equally stiff competition from Italian lottery operators Sisal, pan-European gaming giant Sazka and Sugal & Damani, who run India’s biggest lotteries.

Camelot’s current licence runs to February, 2024. The winning bid for the new 10-year licence will be announced early next year.

“We are delighted by the final number of applications we have received, which is unprecedented since the start of the National Lottery,” says John Tanner, Executive Director of the Fourth National Lottery Licence Competition.

“The Commission will now evaluate these applications in a clear and robust process.

“We look forward to appointing a licensee that will build on the National Lottery’s legacy and maximise the opportunities for innovation and creativity whilst protecting the special status of the National Lottery.”

Bright Shining Stars

Camelot’s rivals, meanwhile, have been busy parachuting in media and sporting celebrities to boost their bids.

Karen Brady of Birmingham City Football Club and “The Apprentice” TV show fame is the new figurehead of Sisal’s campaign. Here, she joins Tory peer and former Minister for Culture, Lord Ed Vaizey, and a mob of other professional lobbyists.

Industry watchers say Sazka, owned by Czech oligarch Karel Komárek, who runs a joint-venture with Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy company, are the dark horse in the lottery race.

Sazka, reputedly, has spent lavishly on its campaign. Sums of around £9 million have been mooted. And it has conjured a politically astute promise to donate generously to the current government’s much-touted levelling-up fund for the so-called “red wall” regions of northern England.

Boris and his backbenchers should approve, mightily.

Sazka’s bright shining star on the board is none other than British athletics hero and former London Olympics chief Lord Seb Coe.

The Devil Knows

Camelot raised almost £1.9 billion for good causes in their most recent financial year — an all-time record. But some may argue that after a quarter of a century of the same company running the UK lotto it’s time for a change.

It could be Sisal, or Sazka. Heavens knows it could even be maverick billionaire Richard Desmond, a prominent donor to the Conservative Party, who’s long wanted to get his hands on Britain’s most valuable public entity.

But my bet’s on Camelot. Given the punters, better to stick, in this case, with the devil you know.

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