National Lottery chief’s £1.2bn winning ticket: Record sum is devoted to UK Covid relief as sales soar despite the pandemic

Nigel Railton, chief executive of the national lottery operator Camelot, has been on a winning ticket despite the pandemic.

They have just announced record sales of around £8.4 billion, with a record amount of around £1.9 billion given to good causes, the equivalent of £36million per week.

Of that, £1.2 billion has been dedicated to helping the country respond to COVID-19, with the largest contribution made to pandemic relief efforts outside of government.

Turnaround: Nigel Railton took over as chief executive of national lottery operator Camelot four years ago

‘We’ve helped nations, up and down the country,’ says Railton (pictured).

The lottery duty paid to the government topped £1 billion for the first time.

Four years ago, when Railton was installed as chief executive, it’s quite a turn of fortunes. At the time, he admits that the National Lottery had gone astray.

‘We did a strategic review. It said we have lost relevance and when you lose relevance it is difficult to win back.

‘We came up with a strategy and the net effect has been two years of record sales growth and the highest returns to society in National Lottery history. I am really proud of it.’

Players were paid around £5 billion in prizes last year, including 389 millionaires. It all comes at a good moment, as the race to win the next license from the Gambling Commission to run the National Lottery for ten years from August 2023 is well underway.

Camelot has been in situ since the lottery was introduced in 1994. Having lost a fierce battle for the license to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group two decades ago, there has been a credible threat to its dominance.

This time around, there will be competition, which is likely to be attended by media mogul Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, which runs the Health Lottery, and Czech businessman Karel Komarek, whose Sazka Group is a major lottery operator on the continent.

An Italian contender, Sisal, operates lotteries in Italy and Morocco.

The billionaire Desmond, 69, is the former owner of the Daily Express and Asian Babes. He was embroiled in planning when Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party, two weeks before Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick gave permission for the development of the £1 billion property.

Komarek is an oil and gas billionaire whose Sazka Group is backed by Wall Street private equity firm Apollo. Both men would be seen as controversial choices if they win the right to run important national assets.

And everyone has to prove that they have the ability to run the lottery in a world that has changed greatly from the paper tickets and weekly draws of the mid-nineties, with no smartphones or online games.

‘I can’t talk about the licensing process, but we would love to be selected,’ says Railton. ‘We just posted the best results in lottery history and the highest return ever in society. The thing that has super-charged us is for good reason.

Now 54 years old, Railton remains unusual among CEOs in that he comes from a modest background, which he shares with many hopeful Brits who play the lottery and dream of millions.

He was born in Crewe, where he lived with his mother and father in a council flat. Instead of the Oxbridge and Harvard Business School credentials, he studied accountancy at a night school while living in a bedsit in Watford.

Funded by the National Lottery: Jamie Bell starred in the 2000 hit film Billy Elliot.  National Lottery gives £36m every week for good deeds

Funded by the National Lottery: Jamie Bell starred in the 2000 hit film Billy Elliot. National Lottery gives £36m every week for good deeds

‘My whole family worked in railways, no one went to college, university, basically the aspirations were zero. I started making tea at a signal box at the age of 16 on the railways, but I had a huge drive to do something with my life.

‘It was really tough, you have to make sacrifices but if you go through tough things, it makes you tougher. I almost gave up twice. I woke up in my bed in Watford one morning and thought ‘I can’t do this.’ You have to search within yourself to keep going.’

His £1.3million salary in 2020 is relatively modest by top chief executive standards, but the father of three has certainly left the bedsit days behind.

Does she feel that her early life helps her connect with people who play the lottery, and who benefit from good causes? ‘Yes. I don’t know if it would be better if we had more CEOs with my personal history, but it certainly helped me understand what the lottery can do.

He tells the story of meeting a man named Kenny on a trip to Glasgow. ‘We went to a tenement, it reminded me of the council flats where I grew up, the smell of cans. Kenny had a grant to use a piece of barren land for people to grow their own food and change their diet.

‘I asked if he had played the lottery and he said: ‘Of course I do, see the difference.’ It was like a bulb going out in my head.’

Heartwarming tales aside, the opening days of the lockdown were tough for Camelot. People were staying away from shops and it was not clear whether tickets qualify as an essential purchase.

In-store sales were down just under 19 percent for the half year, but bounced back so that the decline in retail sales for the year was just under 11 percent. Since the end of the year, they have almost reached pre-pandemic levels.

Record performance online, with 2.7 million new registrations and £3.5 billion in digital sales, an increase of 43 percent.

Despite this impressive growth, he said that ‘retailers, all 44,000 of them, will continue to be our backbone.’

‘People enjoy playing the lottery online and shopping in stores – they will use both more and more.’

For corner shops in particular, commissions, which average around £6,200 per store, can be a major source of income.

One big ambition is to sell lottery tickets at the discount store Lidl. ‘We’re trying to get into Lidl…


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