Camelot UK Lotteries Limited has recorded its second-best ever National Lottery ticket sales for the first six months of the 2020/21 financial year, despite an 18% hit to sales at the start of the pandemic.

Publishing figures for the period 1 April – 26 September 2020, the company achieved sales of £3,854.1m, a decrease of £67.2m on the corresponding period last year, showing resilience despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Announcing the results, Camelot CEO Nigel Railton said: “Like most other businesses, we’ve faced a lot of upheaval and challenges this year. At the start of April, we found ourselves in an unprecedented situation – with a sharp decline in sales, retail uncertainty and our EuroMillions game in jeopardy, as some of our partner countries were under strict lockdowns.

“To add to this, we had to move overnight to the vast majority of our employees working from home – so we’re enormously proud of this set of results. Thanks to the strong foundations we established following our strategic review – combined with our years of experience and some innovative thinking – we’ve moved quickly and decisively, and adapted to the ever-changing situation. That has enabled us to continue running The National Lottery safely and responsibly because we know the huge amount of good it does across the UK.”

Camelot noted that the key to its successful half-year performance was a series of urgent interventions made to minimise the effects of COVID-19 on National Lottery sales as much as possible.

During H1, the National Lottery operator updated all of its advertising to prioritise online or mobile play, urging people to only buy tickets in retail if they were already in-store to do an essential shop.

This resulted in a significant shift in the retail/digital sales split over the period with more than 1.3 million new online registrations, increasing the traffic to the lottery’s digital channels. Online growth was accompanied by a rise in new online players needing technical support, leading Camelot to invest in additional resources to accommodate this.

Although its retail sales team had to come off the road during the lockdown, its local sales reps continued to support retailers via phone and video. It also moved its Site, Stock, Sell in-store retailer standards and rewards programme online.

All of these measures helped to generate £863.7m (excluding investment returns) for National Lottery Good Causes, an average of £34m every week, £13.1m less (-1.5%) than the same period last year, but still vital funding at a time when it’s most needed.

National Lottery players helped over £800m be distributed to date across the UK to help tackle the impact of coronavirus, aided by last year’s record sales performance, taking the total raised for Good Causes since 1994 to over £42bn, 60% more than the Government forecast at the time of lottery’s launch.

Camelot awarded £2,243.9m in prizes to players over the first six months of the year, £5.5m more than last year. With the Lottery Duty it pays to the Government and the commission earned by its retail partners, the company continues to return around 95% of all revenue to winners and society, one of the highest percentages of lottery revenue given back in the world.

Sales of draw-based games were down by £111.6m to £2,149.4m, mainly due to fewer big rollovers on EuroMillions and the lower-than-usual ticket sales due to local restrictions resulting in the jackpot not growing as quickly as it normally would.

While sales of Lotto were maintained over the period, the lottery’s newest draw-based game, Set For Life, continues to grow in popularity and exceed sales expectations. The most recent enhancement to the game is already driving both sales and player excitement, as players have the chance to win an additional cash prize of £5 for matching two main numbers in a ‘Must Be Won’ Rolldown draw, which has resulted in over 1.2m winners scooping the boosted prize in the first draw following the change.

Lottery scratchcards and online instant win games over the period by £44.4m to £1,704.7m as a result of its ongoing strategy of ensuring a wide range of regularly-refreshed and differently-priced products with varying themes.

Camelot’s continued digital innovation over the period led to record online sales of £1,619.3m, an increase of £455.2m and the company’s fifth consecutive quarter of digital growth.

Mobile sales grew by £379.7m to an all-time high of £1,128.7m. The company’s ongoing enhancements to the lottery’s mobile apps drove record sales, while a recently-launched new ‘number picker’ made choosing numbers more fun and interactive.

With online average weekly spend remaining consistent over the period, all of this has been achieved in conjunction with Camelot’s commitment to player protection, encouraging people to play but to individually only spend relatively small amounts. It continues to invest in and promote its ‘Dream Big, Play Small’ portal and it has increased its responsible play communications to all players and has personalised interactions with a small number of players who showed signs of potentially unsustainable playing habits.

Despite the lockdown disruption, retail remains the largest sales channel for the lottery. Over the period, in-store sales decreased by £522.4m to £2,234.8m, but from July to September, sales saw a 15.2% quarter-on-quarter increase as restrictions were lifted. While there is an ongoing impact in city centre outlets, suburban and commuter belt stores are performing particularly well. As a result, lottery retailers earned £126.5m in commission over the half-year, an average of around £2,800 per store.

Further progress has also been made in helping people better understand the connection between the lottery’s unique purpose and play after Camelot rolled out new advertising to support the initial £300m National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 support package, as well as the overall £600m contribution from the National Lottery Distributors. This figure has now increased to £800m.

Approaching the end of the period, the operator launched an extensive campaign to highlight the £30m a week raised by National Lottery players, that is being supported by a cross-Distributor initiative, ‘Celebrating the Dedicated’, which focuses on committed individuals across the UK making a difference in their communities. The company also announced a partnership between The National Lottery, National Lottery Community Fund, ITV and STV called ‘Miss Out To Help Out’, which encourages the public to make time to help out in their community.

Railton added: “With the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and recessionary headwinds, the second half of the year will, no doubt, be very challenging – and indeed this disruption could extend further into 2021/22. So, 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.

“My sincere thanks must go to all of my fantastic colleagues – whose wellbeing is, and continues to be, our first priority – as well as our 44,000 National Lottery retailers who have done an extraordinary job for the entire UK, providing food, medicine and other essentials. We don’t pretend that selling National Lottery tickets is as important as any of that, but the fact that they’ve stayed open has also ensured that Good Causes have continued to benefit throughout.

“I firmly believe that we have the strong track record and experience required to carry on raising vital funds for those who need it most – and we’re fully committed to continuing to work with the government, our regulator and the wider National Lottery family to keep making a real difference to the lives of people and communities across the UK.”