Littlewoods bets on £2m TV jackpot

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The Independent Online

Littlewoods Leisure, the UK's biggest football pools operator, will next week launch a television version of its pools and lottery games with a record-breaking jackpot of £2m.

Littlewoods Leisure, the UK's biggest football pools operator, will next week launch a television version of its pools and lottery games with a record-breaking jackpot of £2m.

The group, which is being spun off from Littlewoods' catalogue arm and sold to a shell company for £161m, said the high-profile initiative was the first stage of its fightback against the National Lottery. Since the government-backed lottery was introduced in 1995, Littlewoods has seen its weekly customer numbers slump from about six million to two million.

Peter Cuffe, managing director of the company's Bet247 interactive gaming unit, said: "The popular belief is that we died and disappeared. But that is certainly not the case. We're here fighting hard and we believe the next year is going to be very exciting for us."

The television service is the result of a deal between Bet247 and Telewest Communications, the cable company. From early next week, 1.5 million households that subscribe to the Telewest network will be able to play Littlewoods' 75-year-old football pools game, based on guessing the outcome of soccer matches, at the touch of a button on their remote control. Participants will have the chance to win £2m - the biggest prize on television - for an initial outlay of a pound.

The new service will also give cable customers the opportunity to bet on the outcome of the National Lottery through the leisure group's PrizeBuster game. Littlewoods winners can receive as much as £17,000 for four correct numbers, compared with a £50 to £100 prize for National Lottery players.

Mr Cuffe said that although the initial television product would be interactive and similar to using the group's internet site, Littlewoods is in discussions with a number of parties about producing a series of programmes, possibly for a terrestrial channel, that could rival the BBC's National Lottery show. He said: "We do have some plans afoot, but it is very early days."

A spokeswoman for Camelot, the National Lottery operator, said the company would not be raising any objections to the Littlewoods initiatives.

She said: "Gaming legislation is a matter for the gaming board via the Home Office." But she added: "Certainly any side betting on the National Lottery could threaten the return of revenues to good causes."

A Home Office official said: "As far as we are aware, it is fine. The principle is the same whether Littlewoods is offering its products by visiting people's houses or over the television."

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