5 April 2022

What’s next for the National Lottery?

By Giles Watling MP

When Camelot were chosen, to great fanfare, back in 1994 to run the National Lottery, it was a case of the right company at the right time. Fast forward three decades and it has been decided that they are no longer the right company for this time. The Fourth National Lottery Licence Competition concluded earlier this month with the Gambling Commission naming Allwyn as preferred applicant. This means that, for the first time in 27 years, the National Lottery will have a new operator. This is a huge opportunity for the country and for the Gambling Commission.

Which is why it is so disappointing that Camelot and their Canadian owners, The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, have chosen to challenge the Gambling Commission’s carefully arrived at decision.

Camelot were the future of the National Lottery once; they are now part of its past. With last week’s enforcement action and fine by the Gambling Commission, it is clear that they have struggled to manage the digital acceleration as some of us might have hoped. They are not the first business this has happened to, and they certainly won’t be the last. But, that doesn’t mean that they should feel bitter about losing – they and The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan should celebrate their historic role in delivering and operating the National Lottery.

The competition to gain the right to operate the lottery took three years, a long time, but it enabled the Gambling Commission time and space to properly evaluate the lay of the land – where the lottery was and where it needed to go. It enabled the experienced assessors to critique and test every inch of the applicants’ business plans, and importantly, the length of time gave the Gambling Commission time to vet and analyse the credibility of each of the applicants. The field of candidates was strong, with the most number of candidates applying since 1994.

Some believed that the competition was unfair, that it was biased against newer entrants and in favour of the incumbent. I am sure that Camelot would agree that the very fact they did not win disproves that claim. The DCMS Committee, on which I sit, is currently involved in an inquiry looking at the future of the lottery and it will, I’m sure, consider how fair and thorough the process has been. We will speak to the Gambling Commission in due course.

We should remember that the National Lottery is not the exclusive domain of one company. Those who win the licence are the stewards of our National Lottery. They are not its owner and The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Camelot, or any future licence holder should not act as if they are. The National Lottery is an institution founded to do good up and down the United Kingdom, owned by the British people, but with a commercial company running it efficiently and successfully. No one, not Camelot, the only company to have ever run it, or Allwyn the company selected to run it from here out, should be in any doubt that it’s job is to serve the National Lottery, which serves us all.

Allwyn, the preferred applicant, should know that it will be under far greater scrutiny. Camelot is now responsible for ensuring that the handover in 2024 is seamless and that it leaves the Lottery in its best ever shape. If it does that, it can leave its position as steward of the National Lottery with its head held high. It has no reason not to do so – there are many good people working in the organization who will want to go on to bigger and better things. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has many other investments in the UK on which to focus and secure goodwill against. How Camelot behaves over the next two years is crucial to determining how their legacy is seen.

I’ll keep an open mind on this, but I urge them to try their best, as they have always done.

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Giles Watling is MP for Clacton.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.