Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Top Banker Who Advised Gambling Commission to Award National Lottery to Czech Company Was Helping Winner Just Weeks Before

The Gambling Commission is being sued for mishandling the bidding process – which comes as it investigates suspicious betting activities ahead of the General Election

National Lottery sign outside a store in Central London. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy
The National Lottery was awarded to a Czech company – a decision that is now subject to a court case. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy

Don’t miss a story

Sign up to the Behind the Headlines newsletter (and get a free copy of Byline Times in the post)

The top banker who acted as lead advisor to officials deciding the destination of Britain’s biggest ever public procurement contract was helping the winner of the multi-billion-pound takeover just two weeks prior to his appointment, Byline Times can reveal.

Ed Duckett, a senior banker at Rothschild & Co, advised the Gambling Commission on the competition for the National Lottery licence, worth £6.5 billon over 10 years to the winner.

The hiring of Rothschild with an accompanying quote from Duckett was announced on 22 July 2019. On 8 July 2019, Czech company Sazka had launched a successful €2.1 billon bid for the majority shares of Greek betting firm, OPAP.

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

In Greece and Cyprus, OPAP holds exclusive lottery licences for jackpot draws and scratch-card games. According to the authoritative MergerLinks website, which publishes details of those involved in mergers and takeovers, Sazka was advised by Rothschild, and the bank’s team was led by Duckett.

Owned by Czech billionaire, Karel Komarek, via his KKCG holding company, Sazka in late 2021 rebranded as Allwyn. In March 2022, Allwyn was declared the victor in the competition for the UK Lottery licence, seeing off other bidders, including Camelot, the incumbent. Camelot subsequently launched legal action against the Gambling Commission, only to drop it when Allwyn swooped to buy out Camelot.

The Gambling Commission is currently investigating suspicious betting activities ahead of Rishi Sunak calling the 2024 General Election, but the watchdog might want to scrutinise itself in relation to this much bigger matter.

Duckett, managing director of Rothschild & Co, said: “The National Lottery is one of the largest and most successful lotteries globally and is of significant national importance.

“The competition for the fourth National Lottery licence is one which has the potential to generate interest from a wide range of national and international operators. We are delighted to have been entrusted by the Gambling Commission as their lead advisor to assist in delivering a successful competition for the fourth licence.”

EXCLUSIVE

UK Regulators Lose Billions on Bad Contracts and Lack of Enforcement Leaves Public ‘Unprotected from Rogue Companies’

New research blames the UK’s reliance on self-regulation for the issues and found that US regulators are doing significantly better

No mention was made of the fact that Duckett had just put the finishing touches on the successful €2.1 billon bid by Sazka for the majority shares of Greek betting firm, OPAP, it did not own.

Byline Times can also disclose that the links between the lead advisor on the UK National Lottery licensing contest and the eventual winner run much deeper.

Rothschild’s website lists the bank’s four business divisions: global advisory; wealth management; merchant banking; and asset management. The latter is split in two, for North America and Europe. The European asset management practice, states the bank’s website, is based in Paris and has a presence in 10 countries. It manages more than €22 billion and has 150 employees.

The website lists its funds. One is the ‘R-Co Target 2024 High Yield’. Previous filings for that fund show that, in the year ending 31 December 2021, it held a stake in a Sazka Group bond, which yielded a coupon of 4.125% and was due to mature in November 2024.

MOJ Slammed for Hiding From Parliament £500m in New Contracts to Companies Probed by SFO for ‘Deliberate Fraud’ Against It

Serco and G4S overcharged the Ministry of Justice for the same service – then the MOJ tried to hide from the House of Lords that it gave both firms new contracts

The Financial Times, on 14 March 2023, carried a detailed breakdown of the Rothschild fund’s investments. The Allwyn/Sazka debt was included among the fund’s top 10 holdings, at just over 2% of the fund’s net asset value.

The R-Co Target 2024 High Yield webpage no longer shows the Allwyn/Sazka stake – suggesting that after the March FT article it was sold. It’s not known if the Gambling Commission did any due diligence on Rothschild before appointing the bank lead advisor.

Banks are hugely complex businesses, often employing thousands of people across the world. Rothschild operates in 40 countries and has a staff of 4,200.

One link with Allwyn, Sazka’s purchase of OPAP, could be explained away on the basis it was a Czech business buying a Greek one. Except not only was it the same bank but the same banker working for both clients – two weeks after advising on the takeover, Duckett was appointed lead advisor on a competition in the UK that was subsequently won by the company he was advising.

Then, there was Rothschild’s stake in Sazka, later Allwyn. It was in the top 10 of assets held by a Rothschild fund. Again, given the fund’s global holdings it could be dismissed as not being of consequence.

But the top 10? That suggests something more significant. There are former executives of Camelot who feel sore about what happened. As does another bidder, Northern & Shell, controlled by the former media tycoon, Richard Desmond.

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE? HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

This ought to be of concern, though, to many people, not just the losers. Not only is it the biggest-ever such award but the National Lottery is played and enjoyed by millions, and thousands of good causes rely on its proceeds for their funding. It is ‘the People’s Game’.

At the very least, we should be satisfied as to the financial strength of the winner and that the licensing fight was conducted fairly.

When approached for comment, the Gambling Commission cited the ongoing court case, saying: “The Commission is subject to litigation regarding the competition and will not be commenting on any related matters.”


Written by

This article was filed under
,