A senior politician has blasted the UK Gambling Commission for its involvement in the bidding process for the next lottery licence, accusing the regulator of ‘overstepping its remit’.
Julian Knight, the MP for Solihull and chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, has previously called for an independent inquiry into the Commission’s role as National Lottery regulator and their handling of the contest for the next operating licence, the winner of which is due to be announced in February of next year.
But the regulator hit back, with their chief executive Andrew Rhodes writing in a letter – documented in the Financial Times – that any investigation would ‘….pose significant risk to the integrity of the competition if the Gambling Commission, any of the applicants, or anyone directly involved in the competition in any way, were to provide evidence to the inquiry at this sensitive stage of the competition.’
“For these reasons, I believe that the public interest would be best served by contributing to your inquiry at a later stage and my colleagues and I will, of course, be very happy to give detailed evidence to the committee once the competition has concluded.”
The letter has incensed Knight, who has claimed that the Commission has no right to interfere and has committed ‘potentially a contempt of parliament.’ He has even claimed that he could call up Commission officials to appear in front of his committee to explain their stance in person.
The furore had been kickstarted by the delay in the licensing process, which meant that Camelot was given an extra six months to operate the various National Lottery draws beyond its scheduled end date – a move which could see the firm net an additional £42 million.
That comes in the wake of some controversy in how money Camelot is netting from the lottery, with their earnings said to be accelerating at a greater rate than that amount donated to good causes.
Lottery Delay Brought Into Question
The postponement to find a successor – or for Camelot, who are in the running, to be granted another stay of execution, means that the new licence will not start until February 2024 at the earliest.
So far, an eclectic array of potential operators have thrown their hat into the ring, including the Sazka Group, which already operates lottery draws around Europe, Richard Desmond’s firm Northern & Shell and a joint bid between BT and Italian company Sisal. Sugal & Damani, who had declared their interest, have since retracted their application.
It has been reported that those involved were happy enough for the competition to be delayed, with recent events making the due diligence process more complex and time-consuming to complete. One of the bidders is also thought to have been hampered by international travel restrictions in backing up their bid as well.
But this kerfuffle will only serve to increase the mounting pressure on the UK Gambling Commission to prove their relevance, particularly at a time when the government is scrutinising the industry so closely.
The parliamentary public accounts committee and the National Audit Office have claimed that the Commission is not fit for purpose, and that a replacement regulator should be considered.