The National Lottery should cease to be a monopoly

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The Independent Online

The Question of who gets to run the National Lottery ought to be a matter of supreme indifference to the amateur mathematicians and day-dreaming wage-slaves who enter it twice a week. Both Camelot and Sir Richard Branson are surely capable of running a souped-up electronic bingo efficiently.

The Question of who gets to run the National Lottery ought to be a matter of supreme indifference to the amateur mathematicians and day-dreaming wage-slaves who enter it twice a week. Both Camelot and Sir Richard Branson are surely capable of running a souped-up electronic bingo efficiently.

However, the process by which that question is decided is important, and the High Court was quite right to overrule the Lottery Commission.

The commission's decision last month was so perverse as to be incompetent. It disqualified Camelot while failing to award the licence to Sir Richard, thus destroying its negotiating position. It could not negotiate effectively with one party when it had already publicly excluded the only rival party from the bidding. The commission will now be forced to treat both bidders equally, and will have to tread carefully in reaching its final decision.

Meanwhile, the affair raises two further important issues. The first is the extent to which the commission was responding to political pressure to favour Sir Richard's bid. Camelot has always been seen as the "Conservative" lottery operator, having been given a long franchise under the previous government, while Sir Richard has been the "Labour" alternative, assiduously courting - and being courted by - Tony Blair in opposition and in power. Labour's plan for a "non-profit-making" lottery was cooked up with him, although Camelot has matched that by offering to run the lottery for a fee.

The second is the more significant issue of the kind of lottery this country should have in future. There is no good reason why the commission should be in the position of awarding a single, monopoly licence for a national lottery in the first place. The Government should allow as many companies to run lotteries as meet the commission's minimum standards.

If there were three or four competing national lotteries, people could decide for themselves the precise balance between large prizes and many prizes, frequency of draws or numbering systems.

The Lottery Commission would be a quality controller rather than the fixer for its own lottery to win the right to print money on behalf of the state. In the meantime, public confidence needs to be restored in its impartial supervision of the lottery or lotteries. This can be best achieved if Dame Helena Shovelton, the chairwoman of the Lottery Commission, were to acknowledge yesterday's court ruling and resign.

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