Lottery regulator 'abused power'in dismissing Camelot licence bid

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The Independent Online

The National Lottery regulator was accused yesterday of making a "manifestly and grossly" unfair decision to start exclusive talks on a new licence with Sir Richard Branson.

The National Lottery regulator was accused yesterday of making a "manifestly and grossly" unfair decision to start exclusive talks on a new licence with Sir Richard Branson.

Lawyers for Camelot, the present operator, told the High Court the National Lottery Commission "abused its powers" last month by refusing to give Camelot extra time to improve its bid for a seven-year licence to run from October 2001.

Meanwhile, Sir Richard had been given an extra month to come up with a £50m contingency fund to support his bid and answer criticism of his proposals.

Representing Camelot at a judicial review, David Pannick QC said the commission's decision should be declared illegal and quashed. He also asked the court to order the commission to give Camelot another month to improve its bid. He said: "We can find no precedent for such behaviour. It is as if, at the end of the football World Cup final, when the score is 0-0, and the match has to be decided by a penalty shoot-out, the referee decides that only one of the teams shall be allowed to take the penalties."

Mr Pannick said the commission tried to defend its decision by claiming Sir Richard's bid, called The People's Lottery, would offer more money for good causes than Camelot. This defence was irrelevant, he said, because the commission's decision-making process was unfair and this claim had not been properly tested.

Camelot took legal action when the commission rejected its bid because of concerns about its lottery software supplier, the US company GTech, after GTech executives covered up a glitch that led to wrong prizes being paid.

GTech sacked the executives involved and introduced stricter security but the commission said the scandal raised doubts over GTech's corporate culture and Camelot's ability to control the software supplier.

Mr Pannick said the commission "very badly misled" Camelot by giving it the impression GTech's action met all its concerns about the company's involvement in the lottery. At the same time, the commission had given Sir Richard preferential treatment by giving him greater help and guidance on improving his bid, Mr Pannick told the court.

Jonathan Crow, counsel for the commission, rejected Mr Pannick's claims. He said the decision to reject Camelot's bid was "vindicated" because Camelot's decision to buy GTech completely rewrote the terms of its licence application.

The hearing continues.

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