The delay in the launch of the competition for the fourth UK National Lottery licence has been criticised by potential bidders, who say it reduces the chances of a serious challenge to Camelot’s tenure.
It was widely reported that the tender process was to begin this month, although both the Gambling Commission and the DCMS are now saying it is on track to launch in the first half of this year.
“The delay in the Fourth National Lottery licence competition provides an enormously unfair advantage to Camelot. Bidding for the National Lottery involves substantial costs, and the current uncertainty is unsustainable for potential challengers,” said one potential bidder, speaking to iGB on an anonymous basis.
“Without a clear timeline, there is a significant risk of credible bidders abandoning their interest. The National Lottery deserves a vigorous competitive process where Camelot’s incumbency is challenged, otherwise it may as well be a state-run lottery.”
Camelot has operated the National Lottery since its inception in 1994, with new contracts awarded to the company in 2001 and 2007.
In response to the concerns, a spokesperson for the Gambling Commission said: “The Gambling Commission is focused on running a fair and open competition to find the right operator who will engage players and protect them, run the National Lottery with integrity and continue maximising returns to good causes.
“We have been encouraged by the healthy level of interest in the market engagement from a wide range of interested parties. Ensuring that all potential bidders are on an equal footing is very important and we will welcome as many bidders as possible to the competition when it launches in the first half of 2020.”
While no delay has been officially acknowledged by either the Gambling Commission or the DCMS, there appears to have been a pushing back of the timeline from “early 2020” to “the first half of 2020”.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also said this week that the Gambling Commission was on track to launch the competition “in the first half of this year”.
However, in late January a Gambling Commission spokesperson had told iGaming Business: “We remain on track to launch the competition in early 2020 and will inform the market when a date has been formalised.”
A number of businesses are expected to challenge Camelot in this tender, including Health Lottery operator Northern & Shell, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Czech gaming company Sazka Group.
Other potential names that have been rumoured to be considering a bid are Australia’s Tabcorp, France’s Française des Jeux and Dutch firm Novomedia.
When approached for comment on any possible bids recently, all of the above operators either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment, with the exception of Novomedia.
It said it had “no plans to apply for the licence to operate the UK national lottery”.