The choice of operator is important, but the Lottery must be accountable, too

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The Independent Online

Let's start with some odds. At the moment, if you buy a National Lottery ticket on a Monday, it is 2,600 times more likely that you will die by the time of the draw on Saturday than that you will win the jackpot. That under-reported statistic, however, is pretty much as clear as things get when it comes to the National Lottery at the moment.

Let's start with some odds. At the moment, if you buy a National Lottery ticket on a Monday, it is 2,600 times more likely that you will die by the time of the draw on Saturday than that you will win the jackpot. That under-reported statistic, however, is pretty much as clear as things get when it comes to the National Lottery at the moment.

Certainly, the Lottery Commission was well within its rights to reject the bids from both Sir Richard Branson's so-called People's Lottery and Camelot. It is, indeed, far better to see a little confusion now than to accept an unsatisfactory proposal that we will have to live with for many years. But we wonder whether the commissioners might not have been precipitate in dismissing Camelot and granting only Sir Richard the opportunity to redesign his bid by 23 September.

Of course, we should not dismiss lightly the remarks made by the chairman of the commissioners, Dame Helena Shovelton, regarding "unresolved concerns about the long-term propriety of the arrangements made with GTec and between GTec and Camelot". Camelot's stewardship of the lottery has not been flawless and it has certainly had more than its share of public-relations disasters.

But on the important point of the efficiency of the running of the game itself, there have been few complaints. True, Camelot did not deal properly with the one serious software glitch that did crop up. Its profits were at times excessive, and some of its executives were given too much money. Equally, though, we should acknowledge the huge technical and managerial challenge of building a secure infrastructure in a country that had never had a lottery. Camelot succeeded, and it is odd in the extreme that it has not been given the same chance as Sir Richard to remedy any misgivings about its bid. It would be entirely understandable if Camelot were to ask for a judicial review of this decision.

For now, Sir Richard has the field to himself and as the deadline draws closer, the pressures on the Commissioners to conclude what may turn out to be a rushed deal with Sir Richard will be very hard to resist.

Odder still than that, however, is how long it has taken the Commissioners to discover that the two bidders' proposals were unacceptable, having already given both parties an extension to work on their last set of (rejected) proposals. Perhaps Camelot and the People's Lottery weren't listening or the Lottery Commissioners failed to make themselves clear, but this process is no way to run a bingo stall.

The Independent has had reservations about the lottery since the beginning. We believed then and believe now that it gives a boost to Britain's unhealthy penchant for gambling, exacerbated by a proliferation of games and midweek draws. As the Bishop of Oxford points out, the very fact that we have a lottery is a sign of social malaise.

Even so, it is here to stay and this is a good opportunity to start asking some questions about who it is for as well as who runs it. There is too little consistency about what constitutes a "good cause" and there seems to be little accountability for the expenditure of what is, rightly, increasingly seen as public money. Who runs the lottery is an important decision. But, as a nation, we are no closer to knowing what its purpose should be than we were when it began. And the answer to that does not lie in those colourful little balls.

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