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National Lottery spent €120 million of unclaimed prize money on marketing since 2015

Some TDs have taken issue with the licensing of the lottery.

LAST UPDATE | 30 Sep 2022

A REPORT ON the regulation and spending of the National Lottery, released today, has found that in the past seven years an average of €17.7 million in prize money was unclaimed by winners.

The vast majority of this was used to supplement the lottery’s marketing budget.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report on the Accounts of the Public Services found that lotto sales have increased year on year from around €670 million in 2015 to around €1.1 billion in 2021, with total sales over this period being almost €6 billion.

Since 2015, just over €124 million of prizes has been kept by the lottery after winners failed to come forward.

Under the National Lottery’s license, unclaimed prize money must be spent by the lottery within 365 days and for the purposes of “promotion of the National Lottery”, although this can fall under several categories.

This includes additional funding of special draws and additional or top-up prizes and may include extra funding for marketing and advertising, although the proportion of how much money is used for what purpose is not specified in the lottery’s license.

Its website states: “If the prizes are not claimed within 90 days of the draw date, they will go to promote the National Lottery which in turn will increase the funds raised for Good Causes.”

By the end of 2021, almost €122 million has been used for the promotion of the National Lottery and or the Lottery games.

Of this, 98% (or €120 million) was spent on additional marketing with the remaining 2% (under €2 million) spent on topping-up prizes.

Some TDs have taken issue with the report’s findings, claiming that the use of unclaimed prize money contradicts previous statements and policies of the National Lottery.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said:

“Between 2015 and 2021, almost €122 million was spent on the promotion of the National Lottery that was originally ringfenced for prize money. These findings challenge the integrity of the National Lottery and bring into question the claim that 90% of lottery sales are returned to communities.”

Stanley, who is also chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said that the report highlights areas in the spending of public money and tax collection worthy of further examination.

He said: “The Committee will be interested in engaging with the Regulator of the National Lottery and its parent department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as soon as the work programme permits so it can gain an understanding of the issues highlighted by the C&AG”

Social Democrats co-leader and vice-chair of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee Catherine Murphy said:

“We are regularly bombarded with slickly produced National Lottery advertising – online, on television and in print. The latest campaign message is that 90% ‘goes back into the community’. This could give the impression that lotto monies are being targeted at improving communities and the people who live in them.”

“In reality, just 29% goes to good causes, with the balance taken up by prizes, retailers’ commissions, running costs and profit,” Murphy said,

She also claimed that “the report indicates that it is not clear whether key provisions of the Lotto’s operating licence are being complied with.”

The lottery calculates how much money is given to the Exchequer, or “spent on good causes”, by subtracting their prize money from total sales and giving 65% of the remainder to volunteers and organisations across Ireland.

The report found that €304 million was spent this way in 2021, an increase of 62% from 2015.

The remaining 35% of the lottery’s gross revenue is available to pay retailers’ commissions and a levy to regulators.

The Regulator of the National Lottery noted in the report that “it is accepted that transparency and understanding could be improved”.

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