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National Lottery bidder enlists Vodafone to ward off Italian rival

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Karel Komarek
Karel Komarek

Czech billionaire Karel Komarek has responded to the shock entrance of one his biggest gambling rivals by unveiling a partnership with Vodafone in his bid to win control of the National Lottery.

Mr Komarek’s Sazka Group has enlisted the FTSE 100 mobile giant to help him to convert Britons to playing the National Lottery on their mobile phones.

Sazka is one of five operators vying to win the licence to run the UK draw from 2023.

The Telegraph revealed that one of the Czech firm’s biggest rivals, Italy’s Sisal Group, was planning a late bid to run the National Lottery.

Sisal, backed by private equity giant CVC, is working with charity Barnardo’s. It has defeated Sazka, which is working with CVC rival Apollo Global Management, in recent auctions in Italy and Turkey.

Camelot, owned by a Canadian pension fund, has run the National Lottery since its launch in 1994. It was originally a consortium that included Cadbury Schweppes, bank note maker De La Rue and Gtech Corporation.

Although many Britons continue to favour purchasing lottery tickets in paper form, the pandemic has accelerated a trend towards playing online.

Sazka has branded its UK bid Allwyn and hired a host of big names to its advisory board such as former Sainsbury’s chief Justin King, Brent Hobberman, the founder of Lastminute.com, and Twitter’s UK chief Dara Nasr.

Vodafone will provide the technology for Sazka’s bid and use its 5G network to encourage more people to play on their mobile phones.

Air Miles tycoon Sir Keith Mills is leading Sazka’s UK bid.

He said: “At Allwyn, as part of Sazka Group, we make lotteries better so that they can serve as a force for good. We often do this by bringing the fun back to lotteries that have lost their spark, while always safeguarding our players – ensuring sustainable growth and more money to good causes along the way.”

Billionaire media mogul Richard Desmond and Indian lottery operator Sugal & Damani have also publicly disclosed plans to bid to participate in this year’s auction.

The Gambling Commission is overseeing the auction, with the next operator set to be announced this autumn.