When it comes to birthday presents, winning the lottery isn’t a bad thing – at least that’s what Czech billionaire Karel Komárek observed after his company, Allwyn, became the ‘preferred bidder’ to hold the UK national raffle, having snatched the prize from the holder, Camelot. But the deal isn’t quite in the bag – notably, the Financial Times notes, as Komárek’s wider KKCG empire owns a Czech oil and gas company that has a gas storage joint venture with Gazprom , controlled by the Kremlin, causing “anxiety among MPs from across the political spectrum”.
A mysterious man
Komárek, 53, is working to undo those ties and has condemned Putin and the invasion of Ukraine via his social accounts. Even then he cannot enjoy a single run, says the Daily Telegraph. Camelot, which has run the lottery since its launch in 1994, is not going quietly and could mount a legal challenge against the Gambling Commission’s decision, potentially lifting the lid on a bidding process shrouded in secrecy. Formerly known as the Sazka Group, Allwyn operates lotteries across Europe.
He has apparently impressed with his “vow to launch a wave of digital investment”, halving ticket prices and doubling the amount the lottery raises for good causes. He has assembled a list of British business figures including Sebastian Coe and Air Miles inventor Keith Mills, who both worked with Boris Johnson on the 2012 Olympics when he was mayor of London.
Komárek can now expect to find his past relationships under the microscope. But “some of the distrust” with which he is “considered in certain British circles can be attributed to xenophobia” and his “relatively mysterious profile”, specifies the Daily Mail. The fitness fanatic is believed to be worth $7.8 billion. He runs his empire from a lavish residence in Verbier billed as ‘one of the finest properties in the Alps’, which was valued at £28m when completed a decade ago and ‘rents for nearly ‘half a million pounds a week’ when out of town.
The seeds of his success began in the aftermath of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Komarek grew up in a two-bedroom apartment in the mining town of Hodonin in South Moravia. He was 20 when the iron curtain rose. With a $10,000 loan from his father, he started a business selling industrial parts, expanding rapidly into oil and gas supply. “When the Revolution came, I felt like I was born a second time,” he told Vanity Fair. “I was so naive – I had no idea.”
He quickly familiarized himself with the tough world of post-Soviet energy markets, showing similar pragmatism when he got into the lotteries. After taking a minority stake in the Czech national operator Sazka in 2011, he bought it out within a year and took advantage of Greece’s precarious financial situation in 2013 to co-acquire his stake in the gambling operator silver listed OPAP. Agreements to organize lotteries in Austria and Italy followed.
An even bigger prize
Komarek’s KKCG empire now encompasses energy, tourism, real estate, technology, private jets and biomedicine, as well as booming lotteries and gambling. Winning in Britain, which hosts the world’s fourth-largest lottery, could add another $10 billion to Allwyn’s earnings, according to the FT. But the company is aiming for an even bigger market. In January, it announced plans for a $9.3 billion New York listing, via a special purpose acquisition company (Spac) backed by Gary Cohn, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs and adviser to the Trump administration. Lotteries, Komárek told Vanity Fair, are “probably the most interesting type of business I’ve ever been in.” He loves their potential to change lives – his own included.