In a shock twist, it has been announced that the Allwyn Group has been declared as the ‘preferred applicant’ to take on the UK National Lottery licence, bringing an end to Camelot’s near 30-year monopoly.
The firm, formerly known as the Sazka Entertainment, is run by the Czech billionaire Karel Komarek – he is thought to have links to Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy operator.
So far, they have avoided sanctions from the UK government, and so Allwyn are free to take over the running of the lottery licence, which will see them at the helm until 2034 at the earliest.
The UK Gambling Commission, who had been pondering who to nominate as their preferred applicant since last year, confirmed in a press release that they believe Allwyn are the right operation for the job.
“Allwyn has committed to investment in the National Lottery that is expected to deliver growth and innovation across the National Lottery’s products and channels, resulting in increased contributions to good causes, subject to the protection of participants and propriety,” their statement read.
“The Gambling Commission is content that all applicants are fit and proper to operate the National Lottery. Recognising our role as a responsible regulator, we are also satisfied that no application is impacted by sanctions related to the conflict in Ukraine.”
Allwyn have promised to ‘breathe fresh life’ into the National Lottery, and have previously promised to slash ticket prices in half back to the original £1 price-point.
The Winning Ticket
Allwyn currently operate lottery draws across Europe, including the main games in Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Komarek’s home nation of the Czech Republic.
But that’s only area of interest for the entrepreneur, who has also enjoyed success investing in a number of oil and gas operations.
One of those came through his own Moravske Naftove Doly (MND) company, who formed a joint venture with Gazprom to build an underground gas infrastructure in the city of Moravia back in 2016.
Perhaps sensing the possibility of incoming sanctions, Komarek has moved to distance himself from any allegiance to Russia, the Kremlin or Vladimir Putin. He called out the leader’s ‘senseless act of aggression’ in invading Ukraine, and spoke of his communications with the Czech government to remove Gazprom from the Moravia joint venture.
“I took the decision many years ago to divest and exit from Russian assets with the exception of a shareholding in a gas terminal, which we have been trying to exit for a number of years, and a 50/50 joint-venture with Gazprom on an underground gas storage facility in the Czech Republic,” Komarek confirmed.
But is all as it seems? A lengthy Twitter thread from an anti-corruption investigator in Australia found that Komarek is a major shareholder in the German arm of Gazprom and in Vemex, a Russian state-controlled energy retailer. He has also invested in the First Investment Bank in Bulgaria, which according to the post has links to alleged money laundering.
Info coming relates to ⬆️links Karel Komarek and his international gambling interests to his gas businesses in partnership with Gazprom, his bank shares in Bulgarian bank FIB through Valea Foundation, money laundering for organised crime, including in the US.
— Kath (@mopeng) February 15, 2021
Ministers have finally started to sanction Gazprom and its oil production and banking subsidiaries, while UK firms have been ordered to cancel their contracts with the Russian outfit.