Walker wins Russian lottery

GEORGE WALKER, the former head of the collapsed Brent Walker leisure empire, has won the licence to operate Russia's first on-line lottery.

Mr Walker, who beat off competition from Camelot, will run the lottery throughout the greater Moscow region, which has a catchment of more than 20 million people.

Mr Walker won the exclusive licence through his TeleTot business, which is a subsidiary of his Premier Telesports company. Premier Telesports has exclusive rights to beam satellite link-ups of horse and dog racing from the UK into the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It is quoted on the Austrian stock market and has operations in half a dozen countries, including Kazakhstan, Latvia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Speaking by mobile phone from Moscow, where he has lived for the past six years, Mr Walker said the economic crisis in Russia had not dented the Russians' appetite for gambling. "The best example I can give is with our horse racing business. We doubled the price of the satellite link in January and everyone paid it."

The lottery tickets will be issued from the same machines Premier uses for its horse racing operations. The machines are located in bars, bus stations and about 800 banks.

Punters will pay 10 roubles for a ticket with an estimated jackpot of $1.5m (pounds 9,400) and weekly prizes totalling $3m (pounds 1.8m). The draw will be weekly and featured on a dedicated television show.

It is expected to go twice-weekly within six months.

Mr Walker said he was considering floating Premier Telesports next year, either on the Nasdaq or Easdaq stock markets. There would be a greater acceptance of this kind of business there, he said.

Although he has no plans to float the business in London, he added: "I've got a great love for the City."

Mr Walker, a former boxer and a Billingsgate fish porter, founded the Brent Walker chain, which grew to a huge conglomerate when it took over the William Hill chain of bookmakers. But he was forced out as debts mounted and the company was finally put into liquidation late last year.

He said he was enjoying life in Russia. "It's a nice country. The people are wonderful."