The battle to run the National Lottery for the next decade has been delayed as a result of the pandemic travel restrictions.
Camelot, which has run the lottery since inception in 1994 , has been handed a six-month extension and will now run the draw until 2024, the Gambling Commission announced.
Bidders were due to deliver their final presentations to the regulator in September. However, it is understood that after some complained that they may not be able to appear in person due to Covid restrictions, the Gambling Commission agreed to push the timetable back.
Presentations will now take place in October, with the regulator taking an additional six weeks to come to a final decision in February.
Officials need a two-year window between award and the new operator taking over, meaning that Camelot's licence, which was last awarded in 2009, will be extended for a further six months.
The Gambling Commission warned that there could be further delays: “All dates are indicative and may evolve in line with market feedback and the continued national, and international, impact of Covid-19, all of which we are keeping under constant review."
Camelot is facing fierce competition from billionaires Karel Komarek, a Czech oil oligarch, and Richard Desmond, the former owner of the Express and Star newspaper titles.
Italy's Sisal, backed by private equity firm CVC, which on Wednesday said it was taking a stake in Spain's La Liga football tournament, is also in the running.
The delays will also give more time to members of a parliamentary inquiry into the National Lottery. The influential Commons Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Committee will review the tender and how the draw will be run in years to come.
Conservative MP Julian Knight, chairman of the committee said: "We need to know that when money has been spent on marketing, that we are getting the bang for the buck. Our focus is really going to be on the return to good causes."
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