UK PM Boris Johnson asked ministers to review gambling limits for society lotteries

UK PM Boris Johnson asked ministers to review gambling laws after attending a party with Conservative donor and lottery boss Richard Desmond.
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked ministers to review gambling laws after attending a party with Conservative donor and lottery boss Richard Desmond, according to private letters obtained by The Times through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The private letters reveal that the Prime Minister wrote to Desmond about his campaign to raise jackpots of society lotteries to £1m.

Desmond owns the Health Lottery, a group of 12 local society lotteries which donates 20% of proceeds to health-related causes. Society lotteries, those which are run for good causes, are limited to jackpots of £500,000.

In 2019, the government increased the jackpot cap from £400,000, but the lottery boss has been requesting for it to be increased further to £1m.

In a January 2020 letter, Johnson confirmed to Desmond that he had tasked ministers with holding a review of the limit, calling the Health Lottery ‘hugely impressive.’

The PM wrote: “We have previously discussed your position that society lotteries should be able to offer a prize of £1m irrespective of proceeds. I understand your disappointment that the planned increase to the prize limit does not go as far as you would have wished.

“However, this is not the end of the road on this issue. I have asked that the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] formally reviews the changes and the case for a £1m prize 12 months after implementation.”

Johnson’s letter made clear that the review would consult various parties. There’s no suggestion that his decision to order the review was improper or that it would be conducted improperly.

The correspondence followed a Downing Street party, which took place three months earlier, where the PM had come ‘rushing up’ to Desmond to pledge an increase to £1m, according to Desmond himself in an interview with The Sunday Times last June.

In the letters obtained by the FOI request, the PM told the lottery boss he couldn’t commit to an immediate rise. Desmond referred to himself as having ‘long been an admirer’ of Johnson in his reply, adding that he’d ‘very much appreciate’ a change in the gambling law.

In December, the government said it would conduct a review of the gambling law in August, just months after the rise to £500,000 was announced.

A spokesman for the Health Lottery said: “We very much look forward to the government review in August 2021. We hope that the review’s outcome will allow society lotteries to increase funding for health and inequality good causes.

“To date, the Health Lottery has raised over £118m for over 3,000 local health and inequality charities, including those which work to help address isolation and loneliness.”

A government source told The Times: “Richard Desmond did lobby for an increase but the facts bear out that he was unsuccessful.”