French set for Camelot bid scrutiny

Steve Dinneen
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THERE are “major questions” over a bid for National Lottery operator Camelot by a French state-run company, according to the European Gaming and Betting Association.

La Française des Jeux, which is eyeing a bid within the next month, has a complete monopoly in its domestic market. European bodies and rival bidders are looking into whether it would be ethical for it to operate commercially in other markets while protecting its own.

A spokeswoman for the European Gaming and Betting Association said: “We cannot comment on the bid itself, but if it were to go ahead it would raise some major questions.

“We have to look at how EU compatible the French legislation is. If the bid went ahead there is a clear, clear competition issue.”

Several MEPs are believed to be looking into the issue but would not comment last night.

Six groups made it through the first round of bids; Sir Richard Branson in partnership with Dutch-owned NovaMedia; French lottery operator Française des Jeux, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and private equity groups Providence Equity Partners, CVC Capital and BC Partners. All six are expected to table second round bids. NovaMedia is chaired by Boudewijn Poelmann, who is also chairman of City A.M.

NovaMedia declined to comment but a spokeswoman for its Dutch subsidiary the National Postcode Lottery said: “It is unbelievable that French charities are not allowed to run a lottery but the state monopoly is allowed international commercial interests.”

A La Française des Jeux spokesman said: “The Board of directors have not decided whether to acquire Camelot or not. Therefore, at this time we have no comment.”

If it was to make a formal bid it would automatically be investigated by the European competition commission as the turnover of the new company would exceed £5bn. Revenue at the French company alone exceeded £9bn last year.