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The corridors of power...

Becoming self-employed has had a curious side-effect.

I find myself queueing up in the local newsagent with other, er,
self-employed types to play the National Lottery.

My chances of winning are no better than they were, but the desire to win a
few million pounds has increased dramatically. It’s not logical, but there you
are.

One person who is on to much better odds is Dianne Thompson, feisty boss of
Camelot, the lottery operator. Although the lottery licence is not due for
renewal until 2009, the build up to the new bidding round is well underway.
Camelot, as the incumbent, is the safe bet to take the lottery on through a
third term, and Thompson knows this.

Not that she is complacent. Sir Richard Branson may have said ‘never again’
after the debacle of the last licence round where he appeared to have won it,
only to have it snatched away. But he is unlikely to be able to resist having
another crack at the big prize.

Branson aside, the government is desperate to flush out a few competitors to
Camelot. It would be hugely embarrassing to just hand the licence back to them
on a plate. The National Lottery Commission has brought in Robert Foster,
respected former chief executive of the Competition Commission, to oversee the
bid team.

There is less of an incentive for rivals to challenge the incumbent, which is
why only Branson pitched in last time compared with eight consortia first time
round.

A decision is due in 2007, leaving enough time for a handover if Camelot
loses. But the action starts next year, when invitations to apply go out.

Let’s hope it turns into the bunfight everyone wants. Either way, something
is bound to go wrong. It always does.

Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer

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