National Lottery hits online sales milestone amid pandemic

National Lottery operator Camelot has thanked a record online performance for helping sales hold up during the pandemic as it seeks to fend off competition and retain the franchise.

Camelot said it overcame an 18% hit to sales at the start of the coronavirus crisis to end its half-year with sales down just 1.7% to £3.85 billion.

The group – which sees retailers account for nearly 70% of all ticket sales – said it swiftly switched to focus online as Covid-19 restrictions took hold.

This helped it notch up its highest ever digital sales of £1.62 billion in the six months to September 26 – a 39% increase on a year earlier.

Its interim results showed it grew mobile sales by £379.7 million to an all-time high of £1.13 billion.

Its results came as the group looks to retain its franchise to run the lottery in a competitive bid process being run by the Gambling Commission.

This lottery licence – the fourth in the game’s history – will run from 2023 until 2033 and is set to be awarded next year.

Camelot has run the lottery since it was launched in 1994.

Camelot chief executive Nigel Railton said while the group saw a resilient first half, the final six months of its year will be “very challenging”.

“While there are no guarantees that we’ll finish the year in as strong a place as we ended the first half, we’ll continue to focus on our strategy for long-term, responsible growth – adapting our plans as necessary according to the circumstances,” he said.

The group’s digital sales milestone came as it achieved more than 1.3 million new online registrations in the half-year, having made it easier for customers to play online.

This included increasing resources on its technical support helpline, introducing “how to” videos, and lowering the minimum deposit amount.

Sales through retailers were hit hard due to lockdown restrictions, falling £522.4 million to £2.2 billion, but bounced back with growth of 15.2% between July and September.

The overall fall in first-half sales, while small, meant there was £13.1 million less earmarked for good causes, down 1.5% on a year ago at £863.7 million.

Camelot has been active in helping provide support amid the pandemic, with a £300 million National Lottery Community Fund Covid-19 package, as well as the overall £600 million contribution from National Lottery distributors, which has since risen to £800 million.

Over the first six months of the year, Camelot awarded £2.2 billion in prizes to players, £5.5 million more than last year, and created 203 new millionaires.