Richard Branson Pulls National Lottery Bid

Sir Richard Branson will no longer be putting in a bid to run the National Lottery. The business mogul has withdrawn his interest to concentrate on getting his other business ventures through the COVID-19 pandemic. Branson has drawn criticism over his response to the outbreak, especially after asking for a government bailout for his airline.

Person reading a lifestyle magazine with an article about Richard Branson.

Sir Richard Branson will instead focus on saving his struggling airline, Virgin Atlantic. ©Austin Distel/Unsplash

Branson Busy With Virgin Atlantic

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Sir Richard Branson was set to put in his usual bid to run the National Lottery. This would have been Branson’s third bid, but it has now been announced that he has entirely withdrawn from the competition. Instead he will focus on supporting his existing businesses through the ongoing crisis.

While Branson has not commented on the matter personally, a source close to him confirmed the news. “Based on his current focus, Richard is no longer looking at the bid for the lottery licence.”

Now that Branson has pulled his hat out the ring, only a few interested parties remain in the National Lottery leadership competition. Without Branson contending, Camelot, which has already run the lottery for 25 years, stands an even better chance of holding onto the lottery.

Other interested parties in the running include the hotly tipped Czech lottery group Sazka, run by wealthy businessman Karel Komarek. The multi-billionaire is responsible for one of the fastest growing lottery operators in Europe. Sazka owns successful brands in the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Austria. If its bid is successful, the UK could soon be the latest country added to Sazka’s list.

Richard Desmond, who already owns the Health Lottery is also thought to be interested in bidding for the National lottery. Reports rumor that the Northern & Shell group owner is keen get the National Lottery “back into British Hands”, as another skeptic of the Canadian owned Camelot group.

Over the last two and a half decades, Branson has suffered remarkably bad luck in his bids for the National Lottery, despite often being tipped as the bookies’ favorite. Now the coronavirus pandemic has not only impacted his bid for the lottery, but his whole empire. Virgin Atlantic is the latest airline in peril as travel plans are canceled during lockdown.

“He has a number of businesses around the world that are being impacted by Covid-19. His focus has got to be on supporting those businesses as they navigate through the crisis, though it’s less to do with finance and more to do with bandwidth.”

As a multi-billionaire business magnate, Richard Branson has often courted controversy. Soon after the coronavirus outbreak began, Branson asked 8,500 of his Virgin Atlantic staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave. It has been estimated that it would cost £34 million to pay each staff member £500 a week for 8 weeks. Branson is worth around $3.8 billion.

Most recently, Branson asked the UK government for a bailout to save his Virgin Atlantic Airline. Much to the ire of the press, he also put up Necker Island, which he owns, as collateral against the suggested loan. The ploy hasn’t worked yet, but Branson hasn’t given up on attempting to secure rescue funding for Virgin Atlantic yet.

Will Camelot Keep Lottery?

Camelot has run the National Lottery since it was first launched. Its license is due to expire in 2023. If another bidder is chosen over Camelot, we could see the National Lottery’s operations change hands for the first time ever. Whoever is chosen is expected to run the lottery for around seven to ten years, although the license period is as of yet unconfirmed.

Camelot’s successful run started in 1994, when it was picked over seven other bids. However, the bookies’ favorite was the UK Lottery Foundation, lead by Branson and ex cabinet minister Lord Young. While director general at the time, Peter Davis said that “Camelot was clearly the all-round best applicant”, Branson was critical of the decision, accusing Camelot of being in it for the money.

“With this business there is no risk. It’s a licence to print money. For a few shareholders to cream off hundreds of millions of pounds from this is absolutely wrong.”

The next license bid came around in 2001, which proved to be a confusing year for all involved. Bids from both Camelot and the People’s Lottery were initially rejected, having failed to meet necessary criteria. Eventually, the Gambling Commission picked the People’s Lottery. Camelot then challenged this in the high court and won, securing another term as the National Lottery’s operator.

Afterwards, Branson vowed never to put in a bid for the National Lottery again. 2007 came and went with only two contenders for the lottery – Camelot and Indian lottery group Sugal & Demani. Camelot’s bid was successful for the third time in a row, as other interested parties slammed the cost of bidding as prohibitive.

Whether Camelot will be awarded the National Lottery for a fourth time remains to be seen. Some say that the operator, owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, is untouchable. However, failings during this term, which led to a £1.15 million fine from the regulator, could be enough to topple Camelot. Undoubtedly, Camelot will be glad that long-standing rival Branson is out of the competition for now.

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