Outlook: Camelot nosedive

"CAMELOT PROFITS tumble by pounds 50 a minute". It is not quite the headline those fed on a diet of lottery fatcat scandals have come to expect. Three- quarters of the way through their seven-year franchise, the fact is the shining knights of the mid-week rollover are losing some of their sparkle. Or, as the Camelot chairman George Russell prefers to put it, the lottery's "natural lifecycle has impacted on sales".

The format is tired, the "new" game Thunderball is merely a scaled down version of the old one and just for an Instant there are better things to do than tune into Lulu on Saturday nights. As the incumbent operator, Camelot ought to be in a strong position to hang onto the lottery when its franchise comes up for renewal in 18 months' time. To remain on message with the Culture Secretary Chris Smith, it has even invited the Post Office on board and turned the consortium into a New Labour Public-Private Partnership.

But the odds on a Camelot victory are not as short as they might be. For one thing, its expensive technology is coming to the end of its "natural lifecycle" as well. For another, an injection of fresh blood may be what is needed to get sales and hence money for good causes heading back in the right direction. Camelot will face strong competition from those offering to run the lottery on a "not-for-profit" basis. However, at the rate Mr Russell is going, he'll be beating them at their own game.

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