Camelot's hopes of retaining lottery boosted as ticket sales return to £5bn

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The Independent Online

Sales of National Lottery tickets have topped £5bn for the first time in six years, the operator Camelot said yesterday, putting it in pole position to bid for a third consecutive licence to run the lottery.

The news came as more than 50 would-be bidders attended a private briefing in London held by the National Lottery Commission, which will award the licence next April. It will run for 10 years from February 2009.

The race for the new licence is intensifying after BSkyB threw its hat in the ring at the weekend. The satellite television group, which sells lottery tickets over its betting channel, Skybet, said it was considering a bid as part of a consortium. Other possible bidders include lottery operators from Australia and Greece, the betting chain Ladbrokes, the Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson and GTech, which provides software to nearly two-thirds of the world's lottery operators. The investment bank Lehman Brothers is also rumoured to be putting together a consortium.

National Lottery ticket sales climbed 5 per cent to £5.012bn in the year to 31 March, the highest figure since 2000. Sales for games based on the main lottery draw were three per cent higher at £4.15bn, while scratchcards contributed £864m, up 17 per cent. Sales made over the internet, interactive television or mobile phones rocketed to £214.8m.

The National Lottery is contributing £1.5bn towards the 2012 London Olympics and the first Olympic-themed draw-based game, Dream Number, will be launched this summer.

The figures represent a strong recovery for Camelot, which was attacked when sales slumped in earlier years. Sales peaked at £5.5bn in 1998 and dropped to £4.5bn by 2003.

Camelot, which has run the lottery since its launch in 1994, is tipped to win the next licence. Dianne Thompson, the company's chief chief executive, said: "Of course, getting back to £5bn couldn't have come at a better time."

But she said she expects bidding to be "tougher" than in the past. "There are a lot more people interested in going for it because when we were bidding for the second licence, the lottery was in decline and people said it couldn't go back into growth," she said.

The operator of the Greek lottery, Intralot, is thought to be interested in the licence, as is Australia's lottery company, Tattersalls, the gaming group, Tabcorp, and the Chinese software company Ricsson.