Police query phone game

THREE investigations are underway into the legality of Telemillion, the premium-rate telephone 'game of skill' which is operated by a company whose chairman is the former Arts Minister Tim Renton, writes Jack Lundin.

They follow a complaint by shadow Heritage Secretary Marjorie Mowlam that the game - in which cash prizes include a pounds 250,000 monthly jackpot - is an 'illegal lottery'.

Telemillion is under scrutiny by the Hampshire fraud squad, Strathclyde police, and ICSTIS (the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services), the premium-rate telephone watchdog body. Telemillion is run by Interactive Telephone Services (ITS), which has its headquarters in Southampton.

Tomorrow, Det Chief Insp Bob Chegwidden, head of Hampshire fraud squad, is to meet John Hyde, of the Inspectorate of the Gaming Board for Great Britain. An ICSTIS spokeswoman said: 'Our investigation is looking primarily at the lack of prominence given to the call charges in Telemillion's advertising campaign.'

Ms Mowlam said last night: 'In the interests of the new national lottery, it is essential that government agencies now act quickly to halt what I am convinced is an unlawful lottery and not a game of skill.'

Telemillion advertisements urge viwers to ring an 0891 premium-rate number and answer a simple question. Then they are entered into a prize draw where daily, weekly and monthly jackpot cash prizes are selected at random by a computer.

Although its advertisements purport to offer a 'free- entry' route, the campaign is aimed at persuading viewers to play Telemillion on the phone. For every minute they stay on the line, ITS pockets 23.76p. ITS expects Telemillion and similar schemes next year to produce pounds 43.5m.

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