National Lottery operator Camelot revealed ticket sales have bounced back from a “huge” hit after Britain went into lockdown as it pledged up to £600 million for UK charities to help fight the impact of coronavirus.
Nigel Railton, chief executive of Camelot, said retail ticket sales dropped by around 30% in the early weeks of the UK lockdown and revealed initial fears EuroMillions draws would have to be cancelled after Spain banned the sale of all lottery tickets in March due to the crisis.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Railton said that after sales took a “huge hit initially”, they have now almost returned to levels seen before Covid-19, thanks to surging demand online – with digital sales jumping more than 30% at the peak of the crisis.
It came as Camelot vowed to hand out £600 million of National Lottery funding to help tackle the impact of Covid-19 after a record-breaking £7.9 billion in ticket sales for the year to March 31.
Camelot said this was the biggest financial contribution to Covid-19 support outside of central government.
Mr Railton said the performance put it in a healthy position to weather coronavirus.
But the group – which sees retailers account for nearly 70% of all ticket sales – said the outlook was “precarious”, given the uncertainties of the pandemic and economic toll it will ultimately take.
A shift towards online sales helped offset some of the knock to its army of retail sellers, with the split between retail and online at one stage reaching 50/50 during the lockdown.
Mr Railton said it had seen a rise in the number of elderly customers in particular buying online during the lockdown.
Camelot also averted a EuroMillions crisis, although it changed the advanced play windows for the draws due to lockdowns across the continent.
Mr Railton said: “There was a period where we thought we might not be able to trade EuroMillions and retail might collapse.
“The combination of all the interventions we made means right now, we are trading about the same levels as we were pre-Covid-19.”
“It’s a bit precarious, because none of us know where disposable income is going this year and how this virus will play out,” he added.
Camelot, which is owned by Canada’s Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, said ticket sales rose 9.7% last year, helped by the launch of new games such as Set For Life, where the jackpot is £10,000-a-month for 30 years.
But it did not reveal profits, which will be published at a later date on Companies House.
Returns to good causes increased 12%, or by £198.4 million, to £1.9 billion in 2019-20, according to the group.
The Covid-19 funding, which is allocated to good causes by the National Lottery Distributors, is being earmarked to help give financial support to a range of community projects such as food banks, as well as nationwide groups including the Arts Council and Sport England to help ease the impact of coronavirus.