Richard Desmond to bid for National Lottery


The billionaire mogul Richard Desmond is stepping up plans to bid for the National Lottery as he moves beyond his media career to launch a rare challenge for control over the game played by millions of Britons each week.

Northern and Shell, the group that contains Mr Desmond’s holdings in high-profile newspaper assets including the Daily Express and Daily Star, said it was preparing to tender for the UK lottery franchise when it comes up for renewal in 2019.

Mr Desmond, who is holding talks to sell his newspaper assets to rival proprietor Trinity Mirror, has in recent years repeatedly expressed interest in bidding for one of the world’s most valuable lotteries.

But the plans have hardened as the publisher seeks his next act in business — and as a rival lottery owned by Northern and Shell has struggled to break even.

The group already runs the Health Lottery, which has sustained £160m in losses since it was launched in 2011. Mr Desmond has grown frustrated that the British government has not acceded to his demands for a “modest deregulation” that would allow competitors to the National Lottery to offer jackpots of £1m. The Health Lottery typically pays out a maximum prize of tens of thousands of pounds.

Camelot, the monopoly owned by Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan that has operated the National Lottery since its inception in 1994, is sceptical of Mr Desmond’s motives, believing his primary objective is to increase pressure on the government to secure more favourable terms for his existing lottery business.

Northern and Shell executives said the group’s bid for the National Lottery would go ahead regardless of any reform of the sector.

“We’re going to go for it, irrespective,” said Martin Ellice, joint managing director of Northern and Shell and one of Mr Desmond’s close advisers: “We’re in the lottery business now.”

Any challenge would come at a vulnerable moment for Camelot.

In June, the company’s UK arm revealed its ticket sales had fallen 8.8 per cent to £6.9bn in the year to March 31, with the money given to good causes falling 14.4 per cent to £1.6bn. Camelot has also predicted a further sales decline in 2017-18, the first consecutive fall in at least a decade.

The downturn, after decades of steady sales growth, follows a 2013 decision to double the price of a lottery ticket to £2 and, more recently, to make a series of changes that have reduced the odds of winning the jackpot.

In April, Andy Duncan, head of Camelot’s UK arm and former chief executive of broadcaster Channel 4, announced he was stepping down, leaving Nigel Railton, chief of Camelot’s global businesses, in charge until a successor is appointed.