Editorial: It's time to start the consultation on charity lotteries

Rules designed to protect the National Lottery need to be re-examined in the light of the impact made by the Health Lottery, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

The headlines in the Giving White Paper of 2011 were making it easier to give, making it more compelling to give, and supporting providers of opportunities to give. Charity lotteries, also known as society lotteries, were not specifically mentioned, but figures from the Gambling Commission show they are working well for charities in the downturn, producing £126m in 2011/12 - a 23 per cent increase on the previous year.

Charities themselves, as our analysis on pages 8 and 9 shows, think that lotteries could do even better if there was a relaxation of the prize money limit of £400,000 and of restrictions on turnover - £10m a year for any organisation and £4m for a single lottery. The logic, therefore, is that such relaxations should at least be carefully examined if the principles of the white paper are to be pursued.

The trouble is that Richard Desmond's Health Lottery, and the threat that some consider it to pose to the National Lottery and its huge contribution to good causes, has focused the attention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on a different aspect of policy - the minimum 20 per cent of takings that lotteries are obliged to give to charity.

This is because criticism of the Health Lottery - a cleverly-constructed grouping of 51 society lotteries - centred at first on the contrast between its 20 per cent contribution and the 28 per cent given by the National Lottery. The government pledged to launch a consultation at the start of this year on raising this 20 per cent minimum, but has not yet acted.

This might be because the debate has moved on. Charities have argued that raising the minimum would harm them, and the National Lottery operator Camelot wants the umbrella structure of the Health Lottery to be outlawed. Meanwhile, little evidence has emerged that the Health Lottery is doing significant damage to the National Lottery, and there is little sign of other entrepreneurs imitating the Health Lottery model. The key point, however, is that the DCMS should fish this out of the 'too difficult' tray and get the consultation under way with a wider remit than just the 80:20 rule.

- Read our analysis

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