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Why a Court Fight Over a Czech Organisation Winning ‘our National Lottery’ is So Important

The Gambling Commission is being sued for mishandling the bidding process amid concerns that ‘thousands of good causes’ that rely on funding may miss out

National Lottery Ticket. Photo: Simon Belcher / Alamy
A court case is underway over the way the Gambling Commission handled the National Lottery Licence bidding process. Photo: Simon Belcher / Alamy

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In a drab courtroom in the Rolls Building on Fetter Lane in London, a slow and expensive drama that touches millions of lives is being played out. 

Northern & Shell, former publisher of the Express, is suing the Gambling Commission for mishandling the 2022 National Lottery licence bidding process. As well as newspapers, Northern & Shell, owned by the tycoon Richard Desmond, ran the Health Lottery. When the company tried to win the licence for the National Lottery, its attempt was rejected. 

Other losers included the incumbent, Camelot, which had operated the Lottery since its launch in 1994. The winner was Czech gambling organisation, Allwyn. 

The Gambling Commission is being asked to provide greater transparency around the bidding process. Photo: Timon Schneider / Alamy

In the biggest UK public procurement contract of its kind, Allwyn agreed a 10-year deal worth £6.5 billion. It took over operating the prize draw and the attendant lesser competitions like the scratchcards, in February this year. 

It is not just the size of the contract, or the central place the weekly Lottery jackpot occupies in the nation’s life, that made the licensing battle so significant – it is the fact that thousands of good causes rely on funding from the proceeds to be able to continue their activities. Allwyn stands to make substantial long-term profits, but these numerous, often hard-up bodies, also look to the Lottery for a vital cash pipeline. 

That’s what sets the Lottery apart. It’s unique: a piece of fun that millions enjoy in the hope of changing their lives forever and at the same time it’s a key source of finance that improves countless people’s lives. It is ‘the People’s Game’. 

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This is why, you would suppose, the selection exercise would be completely open and transparent. That we, the people, would be fully appraised of what transpired, why other bidders were rejected and Allwyn triumphed. Think again.

The losers are none the wiser about the detail of what occurred – the little they were told was full of holes. That’s why Northern & Shell has launched a legal action: it wants to get to the bottom of how the nation’s jackpot draw came to be handed to the Czech firm. 

Camelot was also incensed and initially hit the Gambling Commission with a lawsuit. This was dropped, though, after Camelot was itself taken over by Allwyn. 

Desmond, via his company, is determined to get to the truth. He will not let it rest. His motivation is not the conviction that his was necessarily the best entry – it’s more that he can accept losing, provided the decision-making was scrupulously fair and above board. 

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Doubtless, the Gambling Commission will maintain Northern & Shell is a bad loser and is merely trying to prolong and even overturn the judging, but the company insist that is not the case. What they are asking is for Northern & Shell, Camelot and most significantly, the British people, to be taken through in detail what exactly happened, to explain how the plum, government order went to a foreigner.                                         

The Gambling Commission, as a public organisation, owes it to them and us – it cannot, should not, hide. Obfuscation and prevarication will not do; there should be no cover-up. This is the most public of public contracts and we surely have the right to ensure its destination was properly determined. 

Unfortunately, the Gambling Commission does not see it like that – hence the courtroom spectacle of rows of expensive leading barristers and solicitors. This is only a case management hearing; the actual trial is far off.

Already, the lines are drawn. Northern & Shell claim they were not fully informed at an early stage about the quality of their bid, which they should have been. Adequate feedback would have enabled them to refine their application, as the terms of the contest provided. 

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Everything was meant to be confidential, but there were press leaks pushing Allwyn’s entry, which should have been investigated and closed down. Possibly at the very least Allwyn should have been reprimanded and reminded of the rules. No credible explanation has been given for this lapse. 

Likewise, what looks like a clear conflict of interest with Rothschild, the Gambling Commission’s adviser who had also worked for Allwyn, was also ignored. 

For its part, the Gambling Commission is dismissive, saying Northern & Shell performed “extremely badly” and its bid was “fanciful”. Desmond’s company failed on several obligatory tests and scored much lower than Allwyn during the procurement process. 

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To that end, the Gambling Commission argues there is no case and no justification for a lengthy trial. Desmond, of course, sees it differently. 

There is, however, a third party here, which is we, the public. It’s our Lottery, not theirs, the good causes matter more than any profit or return to investors. 

The Gambling Commission should stop racking up a small fortune defending a legal action and safeguarding its secrecy and share all. 


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