The businessman, who runs the Virgin group, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, together with Lord Young, chairman of Cable and Wireless, were the last to deliver their application for the franchise to the Office of the National Lottery in central London before the deadline expired yesterday.
Nevertheless, Mr Branson is widely seen as a likely winner as his Lottery Foundation - a consortium that includes the computer giant IBM, the Swedish lottery operator EssNet, and the confectionery group Mars - is the only contender to promise to devote all profits to good causes. The bookmaker William Hill has made it 7/2 on favourite.
Mr Branson said the lottery was 'the most exciting and important thing I have ever done in my life'. Just because Lottery Foundation would be giving all its profits to charity did not mean that it would not put all its efforts into being commercially successful.
The eight applicants were, as expected, the Lottery Foundation, Camelot Group, Rothschild Tattersalls Lottery Consortium, the Enterprise Lottery, Games for Good Causes, Great British Lottery, Lotco and Rainbow UK.
Peter Davis, director-general of the lottery, said he was confident that it would achieve turnover of at least pounds 1.5bn a year. Some estimates have put it at as high as pounds 4bn.
Bidders will learn in May who has won. Apart from a 12 per cent tax, it is up to each bidder to say how they would distribute the turnover. Half the money is likely to be prizes, with 23 per cent going to a fund set up by the Government which will split the proceeds between arts, sports, charities, heritage and a Millennium Fund to celebrate the year 2000. The rest would cover running and investment costs.
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