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Calls for inquiry into Telemillion

THE GAMING Board has asked for a police investigation into the legality of Telemillion, the 0891 premium rate telephone 'game of skill' launched nationally 10 days ago.

The Board's secretary, Tom Kavanagh, has written to the Crown Prosecution Service requesting the inquiry. A CPS spokeswoman said yesterday that it could not comment.

Telemillion is run by Interactive Telephone Services (ITS), whose chairman is Tim Renton, 61-year-old Conservative MP for Mid-Sussex. As Arts Minister Mr Renton strove for 18 months to persuade the Treasury that a national lottery would be a good thing.

He resigned his ministerial post in April 1992 and within three months was acting as adviser to ITS, which had been incorporated a month after his resignation. The shadow Heritage Secretary, Marjorie Mowlam, has condemned Telemillion as 'an illegal national lottery' set up to compete with the National Lottery.

The Gaming Board is also concerned, since if Telemillion is found to be legal it could 'make a nonsense', as one insider puts it, of the lotteries legislation. This requires legitimate lottery operators to register with the Gaming Board. Last year 1,167 complied.

The Board is concerned that Telemillion appears to be either an unlawful lottery or an unlawful competition offering a prize greater than pounds 12,000, the legal maximum for lotteries. Telemillion claims to be a prize competition, a 'game of skill' which does not come under the ambit of the Gaming Board.

A computer named Ronnie at ITS headquarters in Southampton randomly selects winners from the thousands who have called the premium rate number and answered a simple question correctly. There are daily cash prizes up to pounds 100, a weekly prize of pounds 10,000 and a monthly jackpot of pounds 250,000.

The Gaming Board has already expressed its concern about the 'proliferation' of 'so-called 'skill' competitions'. Its annual report for 1992 said: 'The level of skill required in such competitions is often minimal. In the Board's view, many such competitions are in reality little more than lotteries run for commercial or private gain, purposes for which public lotteries cannot lawfully be promoted.

'If a charge is made to participate in any such competition (and a number of recent such competitions have involved entry through an 0898 premium rate number, a proportion of the cost of which goes to the line subscriber) there may be a breach of the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976.'

Mr Stephen Nathan QC, an authority on lottery legislation, has stated in an opinion that Telemillion is both an 'illegal competition' and an 'illegal lottery'. He believes that public attention should focus on what he describes as the 'immorality' of Telemillion, which is projected by ITS to produce income, with forthcoming telephone competitions, of pounds 43.5m in 1995.

'Telemillion is a mischief because people are taking part on the telephone without knowing how much they're spending on the call, and they're also playing on credit, until the next quarterly phone bill comes in,' says Mr Nathan. 'It is all too easy to become addicted.

'If you buy a lottery ticket for 25p in a shop you know what you've undertaken. In addition, Telemillion is a positive encouragement to cheat your employer by using a telephone at work.'

Ms Mowlam has also urged the Scottish police to conduct its own investigation into Telemillion (it began on a regional basis in Scotland, East Anglia and Ulster on 8 January). Writing to Mr Leslie Sharpe, Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, she quotes Mr Nathan's Opinion that Telemillion is 'an illegal lottery'.

She writes: 'Advertisements for the scheme have run in all sections of the Scottish media since 8 January.' If found to be unlawful, she says, all the Scottish ITV stations, radio and press who have promoted Telemillion by running its advertisements could face criminal prosecution.