UK National Lottery Operator Under Russian Scrutiny


In recent developments, questions have arisen regarding the ties between the new operator of the UK National Lottery, Allwyn, and Russian financial entities. A report by The Guardian reveals that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) did not initially disclose to lawmakers that Allwyn, the chosen bidder for the £80 billion (US$100 billion).

Allwyn, a Czech company, officially assumed control of the lottery on February 1, emerging victorious from a competitive bidding process that included longstanding operator Camelot. However, as the bidding process reached its conclusion in February 2022, Allwyn disclosed to the UKGC that it had substantial loans amounting to £545 million from Russian state-owned banks, Sberbank and VTB. Notably, this revelation coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and occurred just days after VTB faced sanctions imposed by the UK government.

Despite these financial entanglements, Allwyn cleared its debts to the Russian banks in March 2022, subsequent to the announcement of its selection as the winning bidder by the UKGC.

Further complicating matters, Allwyn’s owner, Czech billionaire Karel Komárek, had previously engaged in a joint venture with Russian energy giant Gazprom in 2016 to establish an underground gas storage facility in the Czech Republic. As part of its bid, Allwyn committed to severing ties with Gazprom prior to assuming control of the lottery. However, it wasn’t until February 16, after commencing lottery operations, that Allwyn announced a reduction of Gazprom’s interest in the venture, with plans to eliminate it entirely by year-end.

While Allwyn’s actions complied with legal requirements and were disclosed appropriately, concerns have been raised regarding the timing and implications of its financial and business dealings with Russia. Labour MP Clive Efford expressed dismay over the UKGC’s failure to disclose Allwyn’s Russian ties during a parliamentary session in June 2022, suggesting it could have influenced the bidding process.

Efforts by losing bidders, notably Camelot and its technology provider IGT, to challenge the UKGC’s decision in court further underscore the contentious nature of the bidding process. Allwyn contends that the ensuing litigation disrupted the handover process, potentially impacting its ability to fulfill its commitments to charitable causes in the initial year of operations—a key factor in winning the contract.

Despite the scrutiny and challenges faced, Allwyn remains committed to delivering on its promises and contributing to charitable initiatives, building upon the legacy of the UK National Lottery.

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