Camelot’s image suffers new dent

Although Camelot has enjoyed astonishing success in launching and running the National Lottery, the handling of its own brand image has been rather less blessed.

Take the draft document of its preliminary financial results, which fell into our hands a week before the expected date of publication, June 3. Little could be done, if we are to believe the company’s own analysis, about the the latest set of figures being less sparkling than the previous ones. Instants continued their ‘inevitable’ decline, to stabilise at 15m a week. Much more significant, there was no double rollover – which increases ticket sales for the draw by a factor of 100 per cent – in the current year. There were two the previous year.

Then again, it was coincidence that cumulative bonuses and incentives, based on historical performance as much as that of the immediate past, should swell the takings of some directors by over 40 per cent this year. And no one could definitely have foreseen that, by the time the results came out, a Labour government hostile to profit-making lottery operators would be in power. Nor that a scandal about one of the Lottery’s principal shareholders, Gtech, would erupt in the US.

All the same, what a juxtaposition of events – and what unfortunate timing for Camelot. Sadly, it only the latest in a chain of events which have dogged the company. As early as November 1996, Marketing Week was able to disclose that Camelot had breached its licence by setting up an international operations arm without the regulator Oflot’s permission. There followed revelations about Camelot’s curious relationship with CardCall, run by an undischarged bankrupt; and a wall-to-wall exposé of the operator’s strategic plans in The Mirror. Moreover, the objectivity of Oflot’s director general has been compromised by the revelation that he accepted free flights from one of Camelot’s shareholders. Still to come: the Richard Branson/Gtech libel case, which should prove a real coup de théâtre if it ever gets to court.

The case for change looks overwhelming. In Oflot’s case it is likely to be sooner rather than later, though what regulatory form this will take has yet to be clarified. The Government will also be able to pass, with little fear of serious opposition, a Lottery Bill clipping the wings of any future operator.

Camelot has, in this sense, played straight into the hands of its critics. The danger, in the present climate, is that ‘correctness’ will become a substitute for rational debate. It is at best unproven that a non-profit making organisation can make a better job of marketing the Lottery. We should beware of being carried away on a wave of Bransonesque fervour.

News, page 5; Gtech page 7

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