Commission grants Daily Express owner's project casino licence despite
opposition from charity body
Richard Desmond is set to try his hand in the casino industry after
being awarded a licence for the Health Lottery to expand into online gambling,
including roulette and poker.
The Health Lottery, a subsidiary of
Desmond's Northern & Shell, which owns Express Newspapers, OK! magazine and
Channel 5, was launched with much fanfare in September as a socially-minded
alternative to rival Camelot's National Lottery.
However, the venture
has so far failed to live up to expectations, bringing in about half the
£50m a year promised for good causes and racking up a pre-tax loss of
£28.5m in its first three months. Chief executive Martin Hall stepped
down in April, although he remains a non-executive director.
It has now
emerged that Desmond has been granted a casino licence by the Gambling
Commission to allow the Health Lottery to expand to offer "casino games and/or
other virtual gaming by remote communication (for example roulette, balckjack,
poker [or] reel games)".
spokesman for the Gambling Commission confirmed that a remote casino operating
licence allowing online gambling had been awarded to the Health
Lottery last month.
A spokesman for N&S said that the casino
products will not use the Health Lottery branding. They will be launched using
a different identity.
"Health Lottery ELM Ltd applied for this licence
12 months ago and at present, there is no specific timeline for launching any
online casino games," said the spokesman.
Rival Camelot is challenging
the Gambling Commission's decision not to revoke or suspend the Health
Lottery's licence. The high court will decide on 11 July whether or not there
will be a judicial review.
Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, the body that represents charity
leaders which has been campaigning against Desmond's venture, said: "Our fear
remains that the Health Lottery will damage charitable income in this country,
and that on that basis it should never have been given a licence."
spokesman for the Health Lottery hit back at the criticism, saying it so far
has made £18m for good causes.