UK Lottery Operator Camelot Blasted Over ‘Underage’ Gambling Loophole

Posted on: July 21, 2020, 10:46h. 

Last updated on: July 21, 2020, 12:28h.

A group of lawmakers in the UK has written to the government asking it to close a loophole that allows 16-year-olds and older teens to gamble on scratch-off cards and online instant win games.

UK lottery
Digital instant-win games were not available when lottery age limits were drawn up. (Image: Camelot)

This age group spent £47 million ($60 million) on National Lottery games in 2017-18. All other forms of gambling in the country are illegal for under 18-year-olds to play, according to The Times newspaper.

This must change “as a matter of urgency,” said Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs a cross-party committee studying gambling-related harm. She believes the current regulations do not reflect the reality of modern lottery products.

The loophole was created when the National Lottery was established in 1994, at a time when the format was simple: pay £1 to pick six numbers and wait for the weekly draw.

Rules for the Digital Age

But today, lottery operator Camelot is competing with online gaming companies and has had to adapt its games into a potentially more addictive digital format. In 2019, it sold almost £3.4 billion ($4.3 billion) in Scratchcards and instant-win games, representing 43 percent of all sales. That’s up from 24 percent a decade ago.

The lottery is clearly competing with mainstream gambling companies. But they have the advantage of being able to target children aged 16 and 17 — some of whom can spend up to £350 ($446) per week on games. We must ensure that this loophole is closed quickly,” Harris tweeted this week.

In response to the outcry, the government told The Times it is committed to protecting young people from gambling-related harm and is currently planning to review the Gambling Act to update for the modern era.

“We are currently considering our response to the minimum age consultation and will respond in due course,” a government spokesperson said.

Contract Up

Camelot has operated the lottery since its inception in 1994. But the contract is up for renewal this year.

Since 2010, the company has been owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and there is a perception among its critics that its foreign ownership renders it inefficient. There has been criticism of a lack of transparency about how some of the revenue is channeled into good causes, and about the salaries enjoyed by its top executives.

In May, Virgin billionaire Richard Branson announced he would be withdrawing his bid to operate the lottery, as he focused instead on fighting to save his pandemic-hit airline, Virgin Atlantic.

Branson has long been interested in taking control of the National Lottery, and advocates for a “people’s lottery” — a model with a non-profit structure.