Johnson 'asked ministers to review gambling laws after Downing Street party with Tory donor'

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Boris Johnson 'asked ministers to review gambling laws after Downing Street party with Tory donor and Health Lottery owner Richard Desmond', private letters reveal

Letters show Johnson told Desmond his Health Lottery was 'hugely impressive'PM said he had tasked ministers with reviewing gambling laws which limit society lotteries, run for good causes, to £500,000 jackpotsDesmond has been campaigning for that limit to be raised to £1 millionHis correspondence with the PM came three months after Downing Street party 

By Ross Ibbetson For Mailonline

Published: 13:13 GMT, 27 February 2021 | Updated: 15:45 GMT, 27 February 2021

Boris Johnson asked ministers to review gambling laws after attending a party with Tory donor and lottery boss Richard Desmond, private letters have revealed.

Correspondence obtained by The Times through the Freedom of Information Act shows that the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Desmond about his campaign to raise jackpots to £1 million.

The former media mogul, 69, owns the Health Lottery – a group of 12 local society lotteries which donates 20 per cent of proceeds to health-related causes.

Society lotteries, those which are run for good causes, are limited to jackpots of £500,000. The government increased the cap from £400,000 in 2019, but Mr Desmond has been calling for it to be increased to £1 million.

In a letter in January 2020, Mr Johnson assured Mr Desmond that he had tasked ministers with holding a review of the limit, calling the Health Lottery 'hugely impressive.'

Boris Johnson and Richard Desmond hold each other at a party at the Savoy in November, 2019

The PM wrote: 'We have previously discussed your position that society lotteries should be able to offer a prize of £1 million irrespective of proceeds.

'I understand your disappointment that the planned increase to the prize limit does not go as far as you would have wished.

'However, this is not the end of the road on this issue. I have asked that the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] formally reviews the changes and the case for a £1 million prize 12 months after implementation.'

Mr Johnson's letter made clear that the review would consult various different parties and there is no suggestion that his decision to order the review was improper or that it would be carried out improperly.

The correspondence followed a Downing Street party three months earlier at which Mr Desmond told The Sunday Times the Prime Minister had come 'rushing up' to him to pledge an increase to £1 million.

Last June, Mr Desmond told the paper: 'He [Johnson] agreed it. He agreed it, he came rushing up to me at Downing Street, I forget what function it was, he says, 'Right, good news for you: we're gonna do it, we're gonna raise the million pounds, and Andrew ... get on with it' - you know? And guess what. Nothing happened.'

Mr Desmond was referring to Andrew Griffith, then chief business adviser to No. 10, who has since been elected MP in the Tory stronghold of Arundel and South Downs.

In the letters today obtained by the FOI request, Mr Johnson told the lottery boss he couldn't commit to an immediate rise.

In Mr Desmond's reply, he referred to himself as having 'long been an admirer' of Mr Johnson, adding that he would 'very much appreciate' a change in the gambling law.

He said he was 'very depressed' and 'at my wits' end' because without the increase to £1 million, less prize money could go to charities backed by his lottery.

In December, the government said it would conduct a review of the gambling law in August – just months after the rise to £500,000 was announced.

A spokesman for the Health Lottery said: 'We very much look forward to the government review in August 2021. We hope that the review's outcome will allow society lotteries to increase funding for health and inequality good causes.

'To date the Health Lottery has raised over £118 million for over 3,000 local health and inequality charities, including those which work to help address isolation and loneliness.'

A government source told The Times: 'Richard Desmond did lobby for an increase but the facts bear out that he was unsuccessful.'

A government spokesman told MailOnline: 'The government consulted on society lottery reform under the premiership of Theresa May, and the policy remains as announced in July 2019.

'The government wants to allow both society lotteries and the National Lottery to thrive, whilst ensuring the funding for charitable causes is maintained.'

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