The High Court in London will this week hear from all parties involved in the bitter wrangle over who should be handed the next UK National Lottery operating licence.
Camelot will argue on May 11 and 12 that the point-scoring criteria used by the UK Gambling Commission in the licence competition were unlawful and unfair, and that the decision to hand the Allwyn Entertainment Group control of the lottery draws – ending Camelot’s 30-year association – should be re-examined.
However, the regulator will fight their corner, and ask the High Court judge for permission to recommend Allwyn as their preferred bidder to the government, who ultimately have the final say.
This preliminary hearing is the first step of the legal battle, which could see a full court hearing take place later this year. It will finally bring the curtain down on a process that has been rumbling on since August 2020, when the competition was launched by the Commission. Should their decision stand, Allwyn will take over the running of the UK national lottery draws in February 2024.
While Camelot’s legal action may seem like sour grapes, it’s not the first time they have taken the Gambling Commission to court – and in their last entanglement, it was Camelot who came out on the right side of the decision.
They argued back in 2000 that the regulator’s decision to negotiate solely with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group when the second lottery licence was up for grabs was unlawful, and the High Court agreed – deciding the Commission’s actions were unlawful.
This time around, Camelot could sue the regulator for as much as £500 million in damages, and will argue that extending the current licence – allowing them to cash in for longer – while the legal matter is attended to is the right course of action.
£1 Billion Bombshell
The former CEO of Camelot has suggested that the delay in awarding the new lottery licence could cost charitable causes as much as £1 billion.
Dame Dianne Thompson, who was the boss of the operator for 14 years between 2000 and 2014, has called on the regulator to hand her former employer a temporary stay of execution so that donations are not halted by the legal process.
“The Gambling Commission could award an interim licence to Camelot for a further six months,” she said.
“The transition timeline would remain unaltered, the legal case could be properly heard and – critically – any risk of a massive bill for good causes would be removed at a stroke.
“No one – least of all the Gambling Commission – would wish to risk taking up to one billion pounds from good causes, particularly during a cost of living crisis.”
Given that the main court case between Camelot and the Commission may not commence until October, it will be a race against time to ensure that Allwyn are ready to take over if the incumbent licensee’s legal challenge ends in defeat.