Dean Russell, MP for Watford, has expressed concerns regarding the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) decision to hand the next ten-year National Lottery licence to Allwyn.
Sharing his opinions at Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament yesterday, the Conservative MP focused on Allwyn’s alleged ties to Russia, at a time when international relations remain tense due to the invasion of Ukraine.
In particular, he cited reports that the Czech operator’s Chairman, Kamel Komarek, is involved in a joint-venture with Russian state-backed energy giant Gazprom, and questioned whether it was “appropriate” for Allwyn to secure the contract when Russian-affiliated businesses and directors are facing sanctions.
He also noted that Camelot, which is based in Watford, is a major employer in his consistency, and so expressed concerns about local job prospects for his representatives.
“Camelot is one of the largest employers in Watford, and its employees have worked tirelessly to successfully run the National Lottery for decades,” the MP queried.
“They play an important role in communities across the UK, many local communities and good causes, including in my constituency.”
“So while I clearly declare an interest in the Gambling Commission’s decision yesterday not to appoint the next licence to Camelot, I do wonder, given the current situation in Ukraine, if my right honourable friend considered it appropriate, that the next licence holder as the operator of the National Lottery is known to have a joint venture with Gazprom?”
Replying to the MP, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab – sitting in for Boris Johnson – asserted that Czech billionaire Komarek is a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and has been in discussions to terminate his involvement with the Gazprom venture.
“I understand that Allwyn’s owner Mr. Komarek, who has long criticised the Putin regime, is in discussions with the Czech Republic Government over its joint venture with Gazprom and removing its involvement,” the Deputy PM stated.
Komarek had previously addressed media speculation over his Russian connections, stating that any accusations demonstrated “ignorance of my own personal experience of growing up under the repression of Soviet occupation”.
Following the invasion, Allwyn and KKCG released a joint letter condemning Russian military action, and converted one of their offices in Prague into a safe centre for Ukrainian refugees.
The firms also organised trucks carrying durable food, mattresses, sleeping bags, camping mats, hygiene products, and other supplies via the Komárek Family Foundation and its partner in Lyiv.
Releasing a statement on Allwyn’s website, Komarek said: “The sad reality is that a party in the UK wishes to use the war in Ukraine as part of a distasteful and shameful attempt to discredit Allwyn’s team and bid to operate the National Lottery. This speaks to their character, not ours or mine.”
Allwyn has detailed its strategy to leverage its experience operating several European lotteries in order to share best practice as National Lottery licence holder, and also focus on improving draw-based games.