How the 'Lottery for the Unlucky' Brought a Curse upon Everyone ; BUSINESS ANALYSIS

By Mesure, Susie | The Independent (London, England), June 7, 2006 | Go to article overview
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How the 'Lottery for the Unlucky' Brought a Curse upon Everyone ; BUSINESS ANALYSIS


Mesure, Susie, The Independent (London, England)


For the investors in Chariot, the cash-strapped company behind the troubled lottery game Monday, this week's emergency cash call was double or quits. Having already sunk close to pounds 15m into creating a credible rival to the National Lottery, now was no time to give up.

Following the shakiest of starts after hugely disappointing ticket sales, Chariot is expected to announce tomorrow or Friday that it has been given a second chance at life in the form of a pounds 2.5m cash injection. Shareholders, led by the deputy chairman, Peter Jones, and one of his fellow nonexecutive directors, John Finan, have subscribed to a placing of new shares issued at 5p a throw - a far cry from the 115p they floated at on AIM less than four months ago.

As a quid pro quo, Messrs Jones and Finan are to take the executive reins of the Chariot from hell, while the two men most closely linked with the group's ill-fated past - Tim Holley, the chairman, and Craig Freeman, the managing director - are to alight. At least one other executive director is likely to leave, although his identity will only be announced alongside details of the fundraising.

The reincarnation of Monday, which was trumpeted as a plausible competitor to the National Lottery at its glitzy launch just five weeks ago, will provide some comfort for Suzie Counsell, the Australian co-founder shareholder who held a little less than13 per cent of the company before its share placing. Ms Counsell, who has had a varied business past including running a couturier business, was left steering Chariot's course after her husband, Andrew, passed away in October 2004.

It was Andrew's idea to launch a charity lottery - hence the name "chari[l]ot" - following on from the work his wife had done during the past two decades for charities on the other side of the world. Mr Counsell was used to riding his luck: laterally, he was involved with a number of mining companies including Eurasia mining, which he founded to exploit the business interests he had developed in the former Soviet Union.

Indeed, Mr Counsell was hoping to strike gold. He needed to, having fled Adelaide for London in 1995 after racking up losses with previous corporate ventures. According to his obituary in the newsletter from St Mark's College, his place of residence while studying for an economics degree at Adelaide University, the losses were racked up from "casualties of the hangover from the risks and adventures of the 80s... amid considerable adverse publicity". The local newspaper, The Advertiser, chose to remember him by paying tribute to a "flamboyant force in the business world". And that was before the near collapse of his last venture.

When Mr Jones, who also chairs the Tote, met the Coun-sells it was 2003 and Chariot was still struggling to take flight. He was introduced to Suzie and Andrew by Peter Evans, now Chariot's charities director and one of the few who is tipped to escape the executive purge. The two men were acquaintances of old, having jointly set up the advertising agency Boase Massi-mi Pollitt, part of America's Omnicom since 1989.

By then the Counsells had got Craig Freeman, a fellow Aussie on board, seemingly for no other reason than Mr Freeman was keen to move to the UK and knew Suzie from Australia. Certainly Mr Freeman, 38, had no experience in the gaming world. His biggest claim to fame was co-founding a cable television network called Neighbourhood Cable' he is also a director of Buzz Broadband, which provides wireless broadband services to parts of Australia.

But it was the recruitment of Tim Holley, the man who launched the National Lottery for Camelot in 1994, that was to prove pivotal in getting Chariot's wheels in motion.

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