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National Lottery

Lotto regulator suggested media helped spread 'misinformation' that €19m jackpot was 'unwinnable'

The prizes rolled over for a record number of draws before it was won last month.

THE LOTTO REGULATOR has suggested that comments in the media allowed the spread of “misinformation” that the €19 million jackpot was ‘unwinnable’ before a must-win draw for the prize was held last month.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act showed the regulator felt in January that Premier Lotteries Ireland, the company which operates the National Lottery, should counteract “misinformation out there about the Lotto game”.

The Lotto jackpot rolled over for a record number of consecutive draws from 9 June last year to 17 January, when the prize was finally won after a ‘must-be-won’ draw was held.

The jackpot had been capped at €19 million in October under Lotto rules, and extra funds were allocated to lower-tier prizes to make up for money not added to the top prize.

Before the 17 January draw, the National Lottery obtained permission from the regulator to allow the full jackpot prize to flow down to the winner of the next winning prize tier – matching five balls plus the bonus number – if six numbers were not matched, and to the tier below that again if still nobody had won.

The rule-change was ultimately not required, as a large family syndicate from Mayo won the prize after matching six numbers.

It followed weeks of criticism about how long it was taking the jackpot to be won. 

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan was among the most vocal critics of the extended rollover, questioning the odds required to win the top prize and calling for the jackpot to be made “more winnable” in a press release in November.

Several media reports during the run, including by The Journal, attempted to explain why the Lotto jackpot had not been won for so long and outlined how the odds of matching the six numbers required to do so are almost 11 million to one.

In an email about the rule-change on 11 January, regulator Carol Boate raised concerns about false claims surrounding the possibility of winning the Lotto jackpot.

“Given the level of misinformation out there about the Lotto game, including descriptions of it being ‘unwinnable’ and false statements that the jackpot rollover monies are going to the operator, I believe it is essential that PLI counteracts this misinformation with factual information about Lotto wins and the returns to good causes related to this extended rollover,” she said in an email to staff at her office.

Several press releases issued by the National Lottery during the record-breaking run emphasised how much additional money was being given to players who had won prizes at lower tiers.

A press release issued on behalf of the National Lottery on 25 November, shortly after Durkan’s comments, described how “181 Lotto players all over Ireland have benefited to the tune of €14.28 million in additional prizes from capped jackpot across 16 draws”.

Another issued in January – two days after Boate’s email – said that three players in Clare, Donegal and Dublin became “the biggest winners in Wednesday night’s Lotto draw after matching five numbers and the bonus to win an incredible €253,314 each”.

‘Misinformed’

The Journal asked the Lotto regulator to clarify the source of “misinformation” referred to by Boate in her email to staff ahead of the ‘must-be-won’ draw.

A spokesperson said the regulator was aware of “comments in the media, particularly on social media, that were inaccurate or misinformed regarding the Lotto game” at the time.

“These included references to the lottery jackpot being ‘unwinnable’ and to jackpot rollover monies going to the benefit of the operator,” a statement read.

“The Regulator determined that, at a time of considerable focus on the National Lottery due to the long jackpot roll, it was essential to the exercise of her functions that accurate information be provided to players.”

The spokesperson explained that it was necessary that Premier Lotteries Ireland should provide this information to the public, as it “is not the function of the Regulator to promote the National Lottery”.

The regulator also clarified that additional money not added to the capped jackpot did not benefit the operator.

A spokesperson said that, following the capping of the jackpot at €19 million in October, the 46.16% portion of of the prize fund normally added to the jackpot each week was instead added to the next prize tier at which there was at least one winner.

They clarified that weekly checks carried out by the regulator confirmed that all money was correctly redistributed to the next highest prize tier.

“For every Euro spent on Lotto ticket sales: 52c goes into prizes; 31.2c is returned to good causes; 6c goes to the retailer in commission; and the remaining 10.8c goes to the operator,” a statement added.

‘Clear concern’

The introduction of the new rules in January means that jackpot prizes will in future remain capped for a maximum of five draws. If there is no outright jackpot winner on the fifth draw, the entire jackpot fund will flow down to the next winning prize tier.

In a reply to a Parliamentary Question by Durkan last month, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath – whose office is responsible for the Lotto regulator – said he did not consider it necessary or beneficial to review how the Lotto operates despite the need for a rule-change. 

“The regulator has advised that there are protocols in place to ensure that rigorous testing of equipment takes place before each and every Lotto draw and that each step of the draw process is strictly adhered to,” McGrath said.

“The regulator has also confirmed that the Lotto game has operated in line with the game rules and that there are no regulatory issues.”

The minister added that statistically unlikely events, such as extended rollovers, were part of the nature of games of chance and of lotteries.

After the top prize was won, a National Lottery spokesperson said that more than 300 players benefited during the extended rollover from additional prizes and that €289m was generated for good causes in 2021.

Commenting on the Lotto regulator’s concerns about “misinformation”, Durkan told The Journal that the lack of jackpot winner for several months had become a “clear concern” before the must-win draw was held.

“It was only after the issue was raised publicly that action was taken by Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI),” he said.

“There would appear to be a need for a modernisation of the lottery process to ensure the public’s full confidence in the operation of the game.”

The Fine Gael TD added that he looked forward to seeing more returns for stakeholders and good causes from Lotto proceeds in future.

The new Lotto rules also mean that a similar run without a jackpot win won’t happen again, as the operator said that in future a ‘must-be-won’ draw will be held five draws after the jackpot is capped.

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