Examination of Witnesses (Questions 311-319)
MS HARRIET SPICER AND MR MARK HARRIS
TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002
Chairman: Welcome here today. We are very pleased indeed to see you.
311. A predecessor of ours, Llin Golding, who is now in another place, spent a good deal of her time trying to persuade Government that all gambling, all betting, everything should be under one house and here we have an opportunity for the first time to do this, so is there some sort of philosophical reason why you could not come under the Gaming Commission or be regulated by the Gaming Commission rather than regulated as currently?
(Ms Spicer) The word that nearest approaches philosophical discourse which comes to my mind is "fairness" in this. I obviously have just sat hearing the words of somebody whom I admire hugely, Sir Alan, and his recommendation was that he felt it perfectly proper for the entirety of regulatory activity to come within one body. Various phrases in A Safe Bet for Success where the Government had to adjudicate effectively between the bi-polar activities of lottery and gambling came to mind when I was thinking about the task which would be presented to a unitarian regulator. When they chose to decide about side-betting, for instance, as they did, the words were, "given lottery betting opportunities available to bookmakers", so there was already a judgment which had to be made which took account of the different playing fields, and other phrases come up in A Safe Bet. To the extent that one can have different and level playing fields, adjudication between the two is required and it is the possibility of doing that fairly which I think is the issue and actually I do not believe, as an interested party, as I must be from the Lottery Commission, that I would go further other than to say that I perceive challenges in the totality of the activity.
312. Well, let's explore, what are they then?
(Ms Spicer) The challenges?
(Ms Spicer) The challenges are balancing the natural, agreed by the Government in the recent documents, monopoly and protecting that monopoly, as against the commercial market-operated activities of a wide array of different gambling and commercial interests. A lottery operator operating for the public benefit as against the commercial interests.
314. Some of us have been arguing for OFCOM for five years and now see it distantly on the horizon, but it seems to me that you are arguing that inevitably we want it under one roof, but not now, and that is your sort of argument. You are bound to and does the public not actually want to have one call? What is wrong with you being inside the Gambling Commission and for there to be two or three commissioners responsible for the Lottery.
(Ms Spicer) Absolutely nothing. Thinking about this, there is the possibility of the duties of compliance and checking, as we do, that the very last penny goes to the proper place, the good causes account, being there but the higher up you get within one body, there must become a board, a board of trustees, as is proposed, and they will have the potentially invidious task of deciding between two competing organisations or bodies, to call gambling a whole body, but between gambling and a Lottery, and I think the potential for those regulated to perceive bias may exist.
315. All right, let's not dwell too much on that, but let's move to the possibility, as is the history of all lotteries, that initially after a wave they all come down and level off and sometimes level down. Given the pressure on the Lottery, is it not possible that you may actually have to introduce a more gambling element, a higher stake or a riskier form of Lottery game so actually you are beginning to cross the divide that the Americans have crossed?
(Ms Spicer) One of the interesting things is that we are looking at a second wave, which is a big new change for us, but we actually have a very young Lottery compared with those in Europe. The British National Lottery is a real baby and we, therefore, have available to any operator, I believe, the potential to grow the game, to grow the money for good causes without recourse to heating up anything, and you termed it a "gambling element". I believe that certainly in the life of this licence, there are a lot of opportunities available to Camelot that will not require us to license a very different order of game.
316. But the political pressure on you, it is a different political pressure on an American Governor who wants more schools just before an election, saying he wants a different type of game to bring in more money, and he says to the population definitely, "I can deliver you more schools and more prisons", but in a way it is the same type of pressure. We want you to maintain income for good causes across the board, but actually that is down and your Lotto games have not worked as well as you hoped they would, so there comes an inevitability, does there not, when you have to say, "In that case, we have to find another game or an alternative"?
(Ms Spicer) There will always be a challenge to maintain the money for good causes, that is right. It is a substantial task, but, as I say, I do believe within this licence that there are avenues for the operator. They have proposed and are discussing a Euro game which we hope will be a step change for the Lottery and its revenues within the life of this game. The interactive offerings should equally make a substantial contribution, and in the much longer term, which I also hear you asking me about, I believe that there may be a change in the gambling environment. Just as Sir Alan referred to the spirit of the age, there is a change, the Lottery in itself brought about the change to the perception of gambling activities. Post-Budd, with the implementations of A Safe Bet, there may also be a change and after that the Lottery may evolve, but for now I would repeat that we do believe that the operator has available to them many opportunities to grow.
317. You do not feel in the spirit-of-the-age argument that actually the Lottery has had its death, that actually there is a harder edge to the gambling community, which I do not fully understand, which does want to play more often and more frequently than just on Wednesdays and Saturdays and scratch cards, and that the freeing, the liberalisation of the law will actually hurt you more, not less?
(Ms Spicer) I would hope not. I think a really intelligent, creative, innovative portfolio offered by a lottery operator should be able to address the needs and to the extent that they do, I also believe that is a good thing in and of itself.
318. You say there are a number of avenues that Camelot could go down, but when Camelot came to see us, they said that one of the things they had become very aware of is that the puntersis that the right word?do not like confusion and they are having confusion about all the different Lottery games. Now, you say it is a young game in the UK, but whether it is a young game or not, there is no question that the amount of Lottery take has fallen. Why do you not allow them to introduce games like Keno,which are very different from the present game? I have actually played it in Australia. Having said I never gamble, I have played it while in Australia and it seems innocent enough to me.
(Ms Spicer) Well, I think, if I may draw a distinction, there is the game of Keno and then the game which is expressly prohibited is Fast-Draw Keno where you can sit and a draw comes every five minutes. I do not know to which of those two you refer.
319. I do not care really, but why are you stopping Camelot from doing it if it is raising money for good causes?
(Ms Spicer) We actually have a direction not to have more than one draw.
(Mr Harris) In our statutory responsibilities and in terms of licensing individual games, whilst the Commission is charged with maximising returns for good causes, that is a less important priority than the priority of making sure that the games are run with all due propriety and the interests of players are protected. We have a specific direction from the Secretary of State that the Commission shall not license games which it believes are likely to promote excessive play. The Commission have looked at the range of games available and certainly at the time of the last competition said that its starting point is that games that have a very high frequency of playand Fast-Draw Keno is often played every five or ten minutesgames like that we would not expect to see as part of the National Lottery at the moment. Now, that does not stop an operator coming forward with proposals, but they would need very clearly to be able to satisfy the Commission that these games would not promote excessive play before the Commission would be able to license those games.