Camelot, operator of the National Lottery, today said sales fell less than 2% in the past half year despite the chaos at shops caused by Covid lockdowns.
The figures will be closely watched as they come as the Gambling Commission has begun the selection process for the next company to run the Lottery.
After an initial plunge of 18% in the first weeks of the pandemic crisis in March, Camelot launched an advertising blitz to encourage players to go online rather than in shops.
That drove some 1.3 million new online registrations and triggered a surge in digital sales.
Overall, digital sales jumped £455.2 million and retail fell £522 million in the half year to 26 September.
Money handed out to good causes fell £13 million to £863.7 million – down 1.5%, which was slightly less than the 1.7% fall in sales.
Camelot postponed a number of its big promotions in the early months of the crisis, while its Euromillions game in collaboration with the Spanish and French lotteries was hit by Spain cancelling some of its games.
Nigel Railton, chief executive, said: “Believe it or not, this is our second best first half-year ever but perhaps that doesn’t reflect the seismic shift we have had to make in the period. As we went into the pandemic, 70% of our business was from retail shops and that fell 30% overnight. That was really quite alarming.”
He said the group had entered the crisis in good shape after a 2017 restructuring which has led to more publicity around the good causes lottery tickets fund and more regular, but smaller, prizes for Lotto players.
The Gambling Commission is judging bids from numerous rivals including European lottery giant Sazka, which last month appointed former Air Miles head and London 2012 organising committee deputy chairman Sir Keith Mills to lead their effort.
Sazka Group currently operates lotteries in the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and Austria with combined annual sales of approximately £17.5 billion euros.
Meanwhile, the gaming trade press are reporting that Portugal’s Sugal and Damani of India will be making another bid for the UKNL, although few details are available so far.
Another rumoured bidder is Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, operator of the UK Health Lottery.
Railton said: “The Gambling Commission is running a good process. I feel Camelot has done really well during the difficult last six months but how that feeds into the competition [to win the next franchise] is not my concern.”