A trio of business heavyweights were last night limbering up as battle commences for the right to run the National Lottery.
Current operator Camelot is expected to go head-to-head with firms owned by media tycoon Richard Desmond and Czech billionaire Karel Komarek for a 10-year licence starting in 2023 that will generate hundreds of millions of pounds in profit.
After inviting expressions of interest almost a year ago, the Gambling Commission will today formally fire the starting gun on what is likely to be the City’s most hotly contested race this year as firms vie for victory.
Neil McArthur, the regulator’s chief executive, said he had been “encouraged by a healthy level of interest from a range of different parties”.
The Gambling Commission is expected to issue an “invitation to apply document” to suitors that lays out the terms and conditions of the bidding process.
Bidders are understood to have consolidated into three main groups.
The Sunday Telegraph revealed in 2019 that Sir Richard Branson and Mr Komarek’s Sazka Group were among a slew of interested parties.
While the Virgin Group founder ruled himself out earlier this year, Czech lottery tycoon Mr Komarek has bolstered its team by hiring Flint Global, a public affairs firm that employs Dame Sue Owen, the former permanent secretary to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Mr Desmond’s Northern and Shell group runs the rival Health Lottery and he has made no secret of wanting to take the prize.
He has previously criticised Camelot – which has run the National Lottery since its inception in 1994 – insisting that the lottery should be taken “back into British hands” in a swipe at the operator’s Canadian-ownership.
A spokesman for Camelot said: “As we’ve said all along, it’s only natural that we are interested in bidding – as we’ve run one of the world’s most successful lotteries for the past 25 years.
“However, we’re not in a position to confirm whether or not we’ll bid at this stage as we’ve not seen the final invitation to apply.
“Our immediate focus continues to keep The National Lottery running and strong for the benefit of the nation.”
A spokesman for Sazka said: “We have been considering our position on whether or not to participate.
“As the leading operator of lotteries in Europe, Sazka could offer the expertise and resources required to deliver a state-of-the-art operation, alongside some fresh thinking that would boost the National Lottery’s appeal and secure more money for good causes.
“However, as we haven’t yet reached a final decision, we will not be providing any further comment on the process.”
The Health Lottery was approached for comment.
Mr McArthur added: “In line with our outcomes-focused approach to regulation, we want the next licensee to have greater autonomy to meet the needs of players in 2023 and beyond, whilst ensuring there is clear accountability for the performance of the National Lottery.”