Media baron Richard Desmond’s Health Lottery has denied that its plan to offer a million pound prize via a partnership with bookmakers Coral is intended to circumvent regulations restricting the size of its jackpots. Under UK Gambling Commission regulations, society lottery jackpots are capped at £100k, but the new Health Lottery Plus allows players to select a Million Pound Number for £1 at Coral betting shops or via Coral’s online betting site. The Health Lottery says that the new product, available from Oct. 3, is a wager on the lottery outcome rather than a lottery ticket, and thus doesn’t fall under the society lottery limitations.
Controversy has surrounded the Health Lottery ever since its launch in 2011, particularly its structure, which consists of 51 regional ‘society lotteries’ that pool resources to boost their prize offering. Critics have charged this represents a national lottery in everything but name, especially since all 51 licenses were registered to a single company. A countrywide competitor to the UK’s National Lottery is supposed to be prohibited under the 2005 Gambling Act, and National Lottery operator Camelot launched a legal challenge of the Health Lottery that was rejected by the High Court in August 2012.
Then there’s the thorny issue of charitable contributions. Camelot has long protested the fact that it contributes 28% of National Lottery earnings to charitable causes, while the Health Lottery antes up a mere 20%. The Health Lottery also returns a smaller percentage (33%) of stakes to players than the National Lottery’s 50%. Coral issued a statement saying a share of the Million Pound Number stakes would go to charity, although it declined to specify the precise amount. A Health Lottery spokeswoman said the same 20% figure would apply.
A Gambling Commission spokesman told CivilSociety.co.uk that wagering on the outcome of National Lottery drawings is illegal, but the rule doesn’t apply to other lotteries. That said, the spokesman said the Commission was “engaging with the betting operator concerned” to ensure that the Million Pound Number was being promoted as a wager, not as a lottery ticket.
The Health Lottery’s ‘£1 to win £1m’ Coral tie-up takes effect on the same day that Camelot is doubling the cost of a National Lottery ticket to £2. To compensate, Camelot has boosted its main jackpots, although it is reducing many smaller prizes. Camelot has embarked on a £15m ad campaign – the largest marketing effort in its National Lottery tenure – intended to help frame the price increase in the best possible light. The campaign began airing “Game changing. Life changing.” TV spots on Thursday, while a YouTube promotion will offer a £20k prize to whomever uploads the most entertaining rendition of the Lotto theme song.
Meanwhile, Camelot’s pursuit of the Pennsylvania Lottery management contract isn’t quite dead yet. As the sole bidder, Camelot ‘won’ the contract in January, but the state’s Attorney General killed the deal in February after determining that Gov. Tom Corbett had overstepped his authority by awarding the contract without seeking legislative approval. Undaunted, Corbett announced he would revise the terms of the privatization plan, and earlier this month, Corbett extended the life of Camelot’s bid until Oct. 29 in the hope of overcoming lingering objections to the deal.