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It's been some time since I wrote about the shenanigans at Camelot, operator of our beloved National Lottery. The story can be summed up succinctly: punters have lost interest and sales are falling. It may surprise readers to learn Sir Richard Branson is to blame.

When Camelot’s licence came up for renewal three years ago, Sir Richard vowed to reverse the decline in lottery sales. He undeniably knows a thing or two about marketing. In launching his rival bid, he pledged to raise £15bn for good causes in the next licence term. Camelot, of course, said it would match this figure.

Lottery sales have been falling ever since, and no-one should be too surprised. If you look at lotteries around the world, sales always settle into a slow decline. It slowly dawns on people that they are not going to win those millions, and they stop buying tickets.

Sir Richard may have thought he could reverse this trend, but Camelot knew for a fact it couldn’t.

The best it could hope to do was keep sales on a plateau. Having fallen into Sir Richard’s ‘trap’, Camelot set itself up for all those nasty headlines about falling sales.

All this poses a dilemma for Camelot’s chief executive, Dianne Thompson, and her chairman, Michael Grade. They can’t force people to buy tickets.

All they can hope to do is revive interest by launching new games and spicing up the advertising. But it risks throwing good money after bad.

Even with declining sales, the lottery remains a wonderful mechanism for redistributing wealth in the UK. Tens of millions of pounds are raised weekly for good causes. Thompson should be playing up her successes.

Instead, her reaction has been to hire Mark Bolland, former PR man to Prince Charles, to spin a little personal magic. Good luck to him.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times

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