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Does The Health Lottery need a check up?

Does The Health Lottery pave the way for unethical society lotteries, or does it rightly challenge Camelot's monopoly? David Philpott of Wiltshire Air Ambulance weighs the arguments.

 

Last month, the Lotteries Council hosted a sell-out convention at the Hinckley Island Hotel. Whereas this annual event is always supported by the Gambling Commission who are on hand to answer questions, engage in debate and host workshops on gaming law, this year’s event was spiced up by the presence of advocates for The Health Lottery and Camelot – the prize-draw Goliaths in the eyes of most Society Lottery operators.

The conference was attended by a veritable who’s who from the charity sector, including local hospices, regional air ambulance charities, and many nationals like Barnados, The British Red Cross, Cancer Research and The Royal British Legion, to name but a few. These paragons of not-for-profit virtue were all rubbing shoulders with countless external lottery managers, the aforementioned Gambling Commission and a raft of industry suppliers and advisors ranging from those who print instant win scratch cards through to specialist law firms with expertise on the Gambling Act 2005, the most recent piece of significant legislation to shake up and liberalise this multimillion-pound industry.

Indeed, leaving Camelot to one side for a moment, Britain’s 750 or so society lotteries contributed a staggering £155m to good causes in 2012/13. Turnover would have been at least double that, so we are talking about in excess of £1m being spent by the great British public on hospice-type lotteries every day.

 

Points of view

The centrepiece of the conference was seeing The Health Lottery and Camelot squaring up against each other in a bit of mud-slinging (although this was carefully choreographed so that they never shared the same platform on the same day). Apologist for The Health Lottery was Tony Vick of Health Belief, one of the 51 community interest companies that benefit from the statutory minimum 20 per cent that must go to good causes from any society lottery. His case was convincing: The backers of The Health Lottery would never make any money out of it, millions of pounds had been donated to health-related causes in local areas – causes that would probably never qualify for any other kind of funding – and The Health Lottery was no threat to The National Lottery.

There was no riposte from Camelot, but instead a cultured and measured presentation, delivered by managing director Andy Duncan (but obviously crafted in the bosom of some PR-savvy speech writer). Lotteries were all about good causes and not profit, he decried, and The Health Lottery was just the thin end of a worrying wedge. Let them carry on, and before you know it, we will have William Hill and BetFred running society lotteries – not for good causes, but to line the pockets of profiteers, went his reasoned argument.

As for the rest of us – we who run lotteries for our charities – well, he just wanted to work with us towards further deregulation. He is on our side; we are in this together, he told us.

 

A question of ethics

While on the face of it the Camelot position is attractive, it fails to recognise that hundreds, if not thousands, of honest people work in the lotteries industry and without them there would be no society lotteries. He seemed to be suggesting that it was at best unfortunate and at worst unethical for anyone to be making a living out of running a lottery (a point that did not go down well with the many external lottery managers present).

Do he and his staff not get paid? Do we who work as CEOs of fundraisers or admin staff in charities not get paid?

If truth be told, I think there is enough room for Camelot and The Health Lottery to co-exist. Camelot is effectively is a nationalised monopoly, so surely it must be healthy to leave some margin at the edges for others to pick up the scraps.

 

David Philpott is chief executive of Wiltshire Air Ambulance

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