David Rees on Camelot’s recently rejected payment and top-up service proposal, and why Sunday trading laws should stay as they are…

Topping up the lottery

It’s something of an irony that the National Lottery Commission (NLC) has rejected Camelot’s proposed bill payment and top-up service on competition law grounds, as many retailers would view Camelot’s entry into the market as introducing some welcome competition.

The NLC has ruled that Camelot would not be able to operate fairly in the market, because its position as a state-sponsored monopoly gives it a scale and a reach that other pay terminal providers couldn’t compete with.

Most retailers wouldn’t see that as a problem. Camelot’s service would have established a major new player, with a bonus ball in the shape of improved efficiency by making greater use of a terminal that gets most of its traffic on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. But what’s good for retailers is not necessarily good for the pay terminal firms.

Actually, the story is full of ironies. For one thing, it is the NLC who originally asked Camelot to suggest ways it could boost the good causes fund through ancillary services. And secondly, PayPoint used the argument that rural post offices would lose most if lottery terminals offered bill payments, too. Naughty Camelot, for wanting to take business away from post offices!

The Commission is tasked with upholding the integrity of the National Lottery, so it clearly can’t take the risk of allowing other services through the terminals that might subsequently be proved illegal. But it’s not yet a final and binding decision, so if you feel strongly about it you can still make your views known to the NLC, or to ACS, or to us.

At C-Store we are in favour of choice and fairness, so if Camelot’s proposal would have been unfair, then perhaps rejection is for the best. But store owners now have every right to demand that PayPoint, Payzone, e-Pay and the rest respond to this turn of events by developing their services to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially retailers.

Never on Sunday

Any steps the new government takes on business deregulation are welcomed with one major exception: Sunday trading. In an era of supermarket development and ubiquitous out-of-town shopping centres, the Sunday trading law is the one piece of legislation that is actually in favour of small local shops. How pleasing to hear, then, business minister Baroness Wilcox’s statement that the government has no plans to change anything.

But let’s not rest on our laurels. Boxing Day is on a Sunday this year, and the large retail organisations will be lobbying the government hard to allow the maximum possible trading hours before VAT goes up in January. Even a slight alteration in the law could be the thin end of the wedge, so we need to be ready to challenge any attempt to change the status quo.