A Lottery Giant Loses to Virgin

The future of Britain's highly profitable National Lottery has been thrown into doubt by the conduct of Guy Snowden, multimillionaire chairman of GTech, the Rhode Island-based gambling equipment company that has come under scrutiny in the United States.

The Blair government is considering whether the lottery should remain a profit-making concern, and, if so, whether the current operators should be allowed to continue running it.

On Feb. 2, a jury at London's High Court found unanimously against Mr. Snowden in a libel case brought by Richard Branson, whose Virgin conglomerate operates a successful airline, among other ventures. Four years ago, Mr. Branson failed in a bid to run the lottery as a nonprofit enterprise.

Branson had accused Snowden of offering him a bribe to drop his application to run the lottery. Snowden dismissed the claim and countersued.

Snowden was ordered to pay Branson 100,000 ($166,000) in damages as well as court costs. He also has been forced to resign as a director of Camelot, the British company that runs the National Lottery, and from the chairmanship of GTech UK, which provides it with computer equipment.

Branson based his bribery claim on a 1993 lunch meeting with Snowden, in which Snowden allegedly said, "There is always a bottom line.... How can we help you Richard? I mean, how can we help you personally?"

After the court decision, Branson said he would give the damage award to charity and called for the resignation of Peter Davis, the government-appointed lottery regulator who in 1994 awarded the contract to Camelot, despite publicly stated worries about GTech's reputation.

The world's largest lottery operator, GTech is involved in 72 lotteries on five continents, including contracts with 28 US states and the District of Columbia. Its business practices have been investigated by several states, but no wrongdoing has been found.

Britain's Minister for Culture Chris Smith summoned Mr. Davis to his office Feb. 2, amid calls by senior members of parliament for him to be fired and for a review of the lottery's future.

Mr. Smith said he would personally monitor Camelot's future activities "to ensure that public confidence in the lottery is maintained."

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