National Lottery firm made over £1 billion off addictive games over lockdown

The National Lottery made more than £1 billion selling "addictive" pay-to-play games to bored gamblers during lockdown.

Gambling firm and licensed UK Lottery operator Camelot saw its sales rise more than 50% during 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the Daily Telegraph.

It profited especially from so-called Instant Win games including a pay-to-play version of Monopoly.

These controversial games give only 10p in every pound to good causes, compared with 30p in every pound donated via the Lotto.

Camelot offers limits on the amount players can pay in and gamblers can also set their own limits.

But campaigners harshly criticised the company's exploitation of the Instant Win format.

MP and gambling-related harms campaigner Carolyn Harris told the paper: "During lockdown, many people who are isolated at home have resorted to gambling on the mini casinos available on their mobile phones."

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith added: "The National Lottery was set up to provide funding for good causes and people will perceive them as offering harmless fun.

"Offering more addictive Instant Win products is very far removed from this and should be stopped immediately."

Camelot faces the stark warning as it seeks a renewal of its license to run the UK's lottery.

The Watford-based operator's current franchise runs from 2009 to 2023, with the firm depending in large part on government contracts.

It has operated the National Lottery since 1994.

But the firm was criticised by MPs earlier this year when some of its lottery stations were found to boast of Camelot's commitment to "good causes" – rather than the National Lottery, which actually runs the charitable initiative.

Camelot also paid for ads in MPs' publication The House magazine, in an apparent attempt to persuade policymakers to renew its lucrative license.

In a letter to the Evening Standard, a group of MPs including Harris and Duncan Smith warned other bidders must be considered for the honour of operating the National Lottery.

They wrote: "We are fearful that if the competition continues to allow the incumbent to mislead audiences as to its role in relation to good causes, it will lead to a situation where Camelot is awarded the licence for a fourth time, and no credible bidders will be forthcoming in future competitions.”

Camelot occupies a unique position within the UK economy as a government-sanctioned monopoly which profits from the only legal national lottery – and prime-time TV publicity each week.

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Just over half of a lottery ticket's sale goes towards the prize money, with another quarter to charity. Twelve percent is paid to the government via a sales tax, with retailers earning a further 4%.

Camelot earns 5%, with 4p in every pound spent operating the scheme and 1p in every pound taken as profit.

In the controversial online Instant Win games, only 10p goes to good causes and the firm keeps a vastly higher sum in profits.

A Camelot spokesperson defended the firm's controversial behaviour as an attempt to maximise charity donations.

They said: "Our objective is to raise as much money as possible for good causes – and our online Instant Win games, which have been available for 17 years, form just one part of an enjoyable and safe range of games that offer something for everyone.

"This saw The National Lottery deliver record returns to good causes from sales alone last year. Like many companies, our online sales increased during lockdown, with many people who normally buy their tickets in shops choosing to play online instead."

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