Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is planning to launch a bid to operate the UK National Lottery. Current operator Camelot’s tenure is up for renewal, and new prospective bidders have until mid-December to register an interest.
Camelot — which since 2010 has been wholly owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan — has run the lottery since its inception in 1994.
But it could face a tougher challenge for the contract this time around, amid criticism over a lack of transparency regarding how some of the money is channeled into good causes.
Some — including Branson — feel that its foreign ownership makes an inefficient operation, with millions in profit siphoned into Canadian teachers’ pension that should instead be going to charities in the UK.
Running the lottery appears to be something of an obsession for the billionaire Brit. This would be Branson’s third bid to convince the country his People’s Lottery is the way forward – a venture with a non-profit structure that has been treated with skepticism by previous administrations.
People’s Lottery Goes Close
During the 2000 bidding process, he came pretty close when it was revealed that a software glitch in Camelot’s GTech terminals meant that winnings had been miscalculated.
The National Lottery Commission disqualified Camelot from the process and handed Branson’s People’s Lottery an eight-year contract by default, since he was the only bidder left.
Camelot took the matter to the High Court and won and the company was later controversially re-awarded the contract. A furious Branson threatened legal action but ultimately decided against it, because it would have meant suspension of the lottery until the case was settled.
Sources who spoke to the Daily Telegraph over the weekend said that the People’s Lottery bid is in its early stages. But a team at Branson’s holding company, Virgin Group, is currently working on a strategy.
Going for a Younger Audience
The bid is likely to focus on ways to attract a younger audience amid falling ticket sales and a failure to compete with online gambling. Plans also involve moving more ticket sales online, the source said.
Also in the mix will be fellow billionaire Richard Desmond, a former owner of a publishing company that once produced pornographic magazines and now owns various interests, including newspapers The Daily Star and The Daily Express and the UK’s Channel 5 TV station.
There is also understood to be interest from several international lottery operators.
If successful, this will not be Virgin’s first foray into the gaming sector. The company launched an online casino, Virgin Games, back in 2003. The operation was acquired by Gamesys in 2013 and continues to operate using the Virgin brand under license.
Virgin is also part of a group that bought the Hard Rock Las Vegas last year, and is currently in the process of transforming it into the first Virgin-branded, land-based casino-hotel.