Is the Lottery's number up?

It's Saturday night fever as bingo bosses and Camelot do battle
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The Independent Online

As thousands of punters last night spent a jovial evening playing bingo in clubs across the country, few would have been aware of the almighty row brewing in the industry.

Sir Alan Budd, a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, is inadvertently to blame. He has been charged by the Government with reviewing Britain's gaming laws, and his conclusions have caused ructions between the National Lottery operator Camelot and the bingo clubs.

Camelot fired the first salvo. Last week the operator released a rotten set of results, revealing that sales of Lottery tickets and scratchcards had fallen 5.5 per cent to £2.4bn over six months.

Camelot blamed the loss on the hiatus caused by the renewal of its contract. But what really got the bingo bosses' blood boiling were further claims that ­ if Sir Alan's proposals were adopted ­ the bingo industry could further reduce Camelot's sales and money to good causes.

"The argument that we can endanger Camelot is absurd," said Sir Peter Fry, chairman of the Bingo Association. "Many of Camelot's arguments appear to have been dreamt up. They are riddled with unsubstantiated claims."

He added: "Camelot have resorted to making sweeping generalisations about bingo operators to hide behind their own inadequacies."

Camelot has claimed that proposals to allow bingo operators to diversify and increase prize money could divert money away from the National Lottery. A spokes-woman said: "We have commissioned research that shows there will, indeed, be a losses for good causes."

The spokeswoman added that the Treasury could also lose out through reduced tax revenues.

Sir Peter hit back: "Considering the scale of the Lottery prizes, one might be flattered that Camelot regards the national bingo game – paying out £1m once or twice a year – as a threat."

The bingo industry welcomed Sir Alan's report, said Sir Peter. However, he was still concerned about the way the industry was regulated.

Richard Caborn, the department for culture, media and sport minister with responsibility for gambling, is about to be dragged into the row. Sir Peter is due to meet the minister later this month to raise concerns over DCMS's dual role in regulating the Lottery and other forms of gambling.

"The DCMS has a responsibility to keep the Lottery running. But where does that leave bingo, casinos and the rest of the industry?" he asked.

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