Lottery regulator says sorry to Camelot over fiasco

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The Independent Online

The lottery regulator has issued a formal apology to Camelot for its illegal decisions over its licence bid and said that the company might have to extend its current games operations temporarily.

The lottery regulator has issued a formal apology to Camelot for its illegal decisions over its licence bid and said that the company might have to extend its current games operations temporarily.

Harriet Spicer, who now chairs the National Lottery Commission, said the commissioners were "sincerely sorry" they had illegally barred Camelot from further licensing talks in August.

Speaking 24 hours after replacing Dame Helena Shovelton in the chair, Ms Spicer insisted the commission would act with "scrupulous fairness" in assessing the company's revised bid. Despite Camelot's allegations that the regulator had "gratuitously insulted" it by refusing to apologise until now, Ms Spicer said talks between the two on revising the bid were continuing smoothly.

However, she and Brian Pomeroy, the commission's first chairman, confirmed yesterday they would have to ask Camelot to extend its games for at least two months if Sir Richard Branson's bid eventually won, making 1 December 2001 the target for the next lottery.

They said they planned to announce by the end of November whether Camelot or The People's Lottery, chaired by Sir Richard, had won the licence. Camelot has until 24 October to answer concerns over its software supplier, GTech.

Ms Spicer confirmed that the revisions to both bids couldaffect the generosity of their payments to good causes. However, many observers believe The People's Lottery is still favourite to win, having offered up to 6.9 per cent more than Camelot. Any further delay would cut the 50 per cent extra revenue for good causes the bidders have promised.

Ms Spicer insisted the commission had sought to behave properly. She said the Treasury solicitors' department had stated categorically that it would be illegal to give both bidders a second chance to improve their bids. A commission source said the advice had been "defective and calamitous".

Ms Spicer also said plans to apologise earlier had been delayed by the appointment of new legal advisers, the City firm Freshfields, on Tuesday. "We can understand why a picture has been painted out there in a world where such words as chaos, shambles and farce are used. However, that is not what is going on in the commission or, indeed, in our relations with Camelot," she said.

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