Dean Russell is MP for Watford.
When I was elected the Member of Parliament for Watford in 2019, one of my first calls was to the headquarters of the UK’s National Lottery operator, Camelot.
Camelot employs a considerable number of my constituents and is a great champion for Watford. Given Camelot’s importance to us in Watford, I have always taken a particularly keen interest in the performance of what is – after all – the invention of a Conservative government. The National Lottery etc. Act, spearheaded by then Prime Minister John Major, was passed in 1993, and Camelot launched what has become one of the world’s most successful lotteries in 1994.
Given this fantastic British success story, I have been surprised to read recent articles which have raised questions about Camelot’s performance, which in my view, are very wide of the mark. Of course, everyone is rightly entitled to opinions, and as MPs, we must share ours and those of our constituents. For this reason, as the proud elected representative of many Camelot employees, I felt it incumbent to set the record straight and share my view to balance the discussion.
Firstly, to tackle the biggest misnomer, there has been no decline in National Lottery Good Cause spending. Returns to Good Causes from National Lottery ticket sales last year were actually the highest on record.
Indeed, Camelot is delivering record returns to Good Causes from sales, record prize money to players and record payments in Lottery Duty to the Treasury. Most importantly, annual returns to Good Causes are now over £500 million higher than they were at the start of the third National Lottery licence back in 2009.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned so much about the National Lottery and about the success of that simple, Conservative idea, and how that original vision has been delivered under the custodianship of an operator that over a quarter of a century later is still completely on top of its game.
As a Conservative, I also believe wholeheartedly in levelling up. Since being elected, I have been very supportive of efforts to deliver on this. So, I can completely understand that colleagues may be tempted to believe a new operator promising money will flow into their constituencies would be a good thing.
But the fact is the operator of the National Lottery has no say in where Lottery funding is allocated for good causes. In Watford, like many community-minded businesses, Camelot has been incredibly supportive of our community given the role it plays as a significant local employer, but this is very different – and on a completely different scale – from the funding the National Lottery delivers for good causes every day which is allocated wholly separately.
The location of Camelot, or any operator, has no bearing on where good causes are supported via the National Lottery. It is a false expectation to expect otherwise. Camelot runs the operational aspects, which in the simplest terms is selling lottery tickets; the more tickets sold, the more money for good causes. So the focus should always be on ensuring a successful operator to ensure the money keeps flowing through the National Lottery to good causes across the UK. That is what Camelot’s staff have delivered on for decades.
To put this in context, to date, Camelot has helped – through the sale of National Lottery tickets – the public raise over £43 billion for charities, sports, arts, heritage and community projects, and a further £18.5 billion has gone to the Treasury via Lottery Duty. Every constituency, every postcode, pretty much every community in the UK has benefitted from lottery money. It is part of the fabric of our lives, and we must keep it so.
Camelot’s lottery operation is one of the most generous in the world, returning 95p of every pound spent to society through prizes, returns to Good Causes, Lottery Duty and the all-important retailer commission – the latter having been a lifeline for so many struggling, independent retailers on the high street. It achieves all of this with world-beating efficiency, retaining just five per cent of lottery revenues to cover running costs, technology, staff salaries and indeed profit (which comes in at just one per cent).
Under Camelot’s stewardship, the UK National Lottery has become a world leader and is the fifth-largest lottery worldwide by sales. And as the result of Camelot’s strategy of responsible play, The National Lottery is just 60th in the world by per capita spend. And – while this may be a boring point – Camelot runs a seamless operation. That isn’t down to the good luck that National Lottery winners enjoy. That is hard work, dedication and many years of expertise.
It has also adapted to the times, consistently building on their portfolio to keep the lottery relevant and fit for a modern and digital age, while carefully ensuring that all games are safe to play. So, while Camelot has continued to grow its wide range of draw-based games, it has also built a wide range of online instant win games in response to changing consumer appetites and demand. These games offer a digital option to players in addition to traditional draw-based games and scratch cards.
While some commentators have expressed concerns about this development, all of the statistics from organisations, including GamCare – an independent charity – confirm that the National Lottery is very different from mainstream gambling and the risk of problem play associated with National Lottery products remains extremely low.
In short, I struggle to think of a contract that has delivered more for the public good and for the public purse, with Camelot retaining just one penny in the pound for its performance.
Nor do I understand why this most British of success stories should be criticised because it has trusted Canadian shareholders in the form of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan when the rival bidders for the fourth lottery licence reportedly include a Czech billionaire, the second lottery operator of Italy and an Indian lottery operator.
As Conservatives, we want to see consistent value for money to the public purse, delivered through the private sector with wealth distributed across the UK. Camelot delivers on all of these things – in spades.
So to those critics of Camelot or indeed the National Lottery itself, I would urge them to look again at the record of Watford-based Camelot and take it from someone who has seen up-close the operation of Camelot’s hardworking employees as they deliver results with passion, care and dedication. I am in no doubt that the National Lottery is safe in their hands.