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Bill Gates Backs Richard Branson's UK Lottery Bid

7 February 2000

LONDON -- Microsoft Corp. [NASDAQ:MSFT] Chairman Bill Gates said he will back British business "good guy" Richard Branson in his bid for the UK's national lottery.

If Branson's Virgin empire is successful in bidding for the UK national lottery, Microsoft will supply much of the technical and systems expertise in a project that could generate sizable income for the software giant.

The national lottery, which is currently run by Camelot, has come in for more than its share of criticism in the last few years. Critics say that while the lottery raises money for charities and other good causes, Camelot is making excessive profits from running the operation.

Camelot looks unlikely to secure the next contract for the lottery, mainly because it was given the contract by the then Conservative government in the UK during the 1980s. Today's Labour government is understood to be against the large profits that Camelot has earned from the project.

Branson, meanwhile, is credited with being the ultimate self-publicist in the UK, having interests in the Internet (Virgin Internet), the music business (Virgin Records), transport (Virgin Airlines and Rail) and mobile telephony (Virgin Mobile).

Somehow, despite industry problems in the markets he goes for, Branson has come up smelling of roses. His cheerful disposition has gone down well with the Labour government and the people in the UK.

With Gates on board the project, his bid seems assured. According to Virgin, Branson met with Gates last week and secured a deal with the Microsoft chief for his company to supply systems software for the mechanics of the lottery project.

Branson has gone on record as saying that he plans to make a modest profit from the national lottery if he is successful in his bid, but has made it plain that he intends to donate the bulk of the profits to charitable concerns.

UK media reports over the weekend said that Branson has persuaded Gates that if Microsoft comes on board the national lottery project, then Microsoft also will donate some of its lottery profits to charity.

Branson said that Bill Gates has made it clear he spends a great deal of time and energy on good causes, he said in the Feb. 6 issue of the Sunday Times.

"He has similar principles to those that we have at the People's Lottery," Branson said, adding that Gates is trying to eradicate illnesses around the world and is interested in seeing whether a small percentage spent in a positive way can make a difference.

The paper said that Microsoft plans to help Branson with security encryption, data warehousing, call centers and design, building and operation of Internet services.

The software giant will, the paper added, bring the lottery to users PC, mobile phone and interactive TV users.

Camelot does not currently offer Internet access to lottery services, Newsbytes notes.

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