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The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), regulator of the country’s betting industry, is under ferocious parliamentary attack as it attempts to protect the integrity of the current bidding round to determine the next operator of the National Lottery.
Conservative MP Julian Knight MP (Solihull, West Midlands), Chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has accused the UKGC of arrogance, overstepping its remit and making an “unprecedented” attempt to hinder a probe into its role as regulator of the lottery.
In July Knight announced that his committee planned to launch an investigation into the Gambling Commission, with specific reference to its oversight of the lottery.
The UKGC is currently overseeing the competition for the next 10-year lottery licence.
But the commission claims that providing “evidence to [any] inquiry at this sensitive stage of the competition [poses] a significant risk to the integrity of the current bidding round.”
“I believe that the public interest would be best served by contributing to your inquiry at a later stage and my colleagues and I will, of course, be very happy to give detailed evidence to the committee once the competition has concluded,” the UKGC’s Chief Executive Andrew Rhodes has written to the MP.
But Knight has hit back and warned the UKGC’s posture is “unprecedented [and] potentially a contempt of parliament.”
Following the Official Review of the 2005 Gambling Act and ahead of major new gambling legislation, slated for next year, The UKGC is already under intense parliamentary pressure to prove it is “fit-for-purpose” and capable of administering Britain’s multi-billion-pound betting industry.
For example, another parliamentary watchdog, the National Audit Office, has also called for the UKGC’s role to be scrutinised.
Meantime, the commission has recently delayed the lottery bidding process for a second time — and given current licensee Camelot–which has run the lotto since its inception in 1994 and which is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in Canada–a six-month contract extension.
All bidders for the new 10-year licence to run the UK Lotto have to sign a strict confidentiality agreement and refrain from public statements relating to their bid.
Current frontrunners include Italian lottery operator Sisal, Sazka of the Czech Republic and media baron Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell.
The commission has stressed that it will “support the committee’s inquiry as fully as possible” once the lottery competition is finalised.
“Our priority is to run a fair and open competition, in which applicants compete on a level playing field.
“All parties directly involved in the competition must adhere to strict confidentiality protocols that seek to protect the integrity and fairness of the process and maintain competitive tension,” the UKGC said in a statement.