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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie
# National Lottery
Lottery regulator defends the operator's spending of €122m in unclaimed prizes on advertising
The National Lottery regulator said she believes that this was the state’s intention when the licensing was agreed.

THE NATIONAL LOTTERY regulator said she did not initially publicly disclose that 98% of €124 million in unclaimed prize money has been spent by Premier Lotteries Ireland on advertising, as she believes that this was the state’s intention.

TDs from a range of parties criticised the private company that acts as operator of the National lottery – Premier Lotteries Ireland – during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee today. 

The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) revealed in a report published in September that €122 million of unclaimed prize money was spent on promotion and advertising between 2015 and 2021, after the information was released under a Freedom of Information request. 

Regulator Carol Boate today told TD’s that she did not make this information publicly available prior to the C&AG’s request as it is her understanding that “it was the intention of the state” to provide “ring-fenced money” for marketing through unclaimed prize money.

Dermot Nolan from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, who was also present at the meeting, stated that he did not know if this was the case when the licensing was agreed.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley labelled the advertising spend as an “extreme interpretation” of the licensing agreement in regards to unclaimed prize money.

The License to Operate the National Lottery 2014 states that the operator “shall” use unclaimed prize money to top-up prizes, but also that they “may” use it for incremental promotion and marketing.

To date €2 million of unclaimed prize money has been used to top up prizes for players.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said that “to anyone looking in that is not acceptable,” and said that if it is the wording of the licensing agreement that is causing the issue, the committee will “take that away.”

Boate said that the licensing agreement does not outline what proportion of leftover prize money should be spent on marketing, and therefore it is not her role to direct on how it is spent, as long as “some” money goes towards topping up prizes. 

Exclusions

Regulator Carol Boate said that it was appropriate under the licensing agreement for Premier Lotteries to spend the majority of leftover prize money on advertising Carol Boate, Regulator of the National Lottery.

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill also asked the regulator about marketing material being sent to 48 people who had excluded themselves from participating in the lottery

The material was sent within 36 hours of the individuals excluding themselves and Carroll MacNeill asked why no punitive action was taken against the Premier Lotteries over this, saying it breached the licensing agreement.

Boate said that the power to withhold money from the operating company, which is allowed for in the licensing agreement, has never been used because there has never been a “breach of the act that warranted it.”

She further stated that the regulator did not conduct an assessment of harm or reach out to the 48 people affected, as this would have been “further contact from the lottery.”

The regulator also stated that over 1,000 people self-excluded themselves from the lottery in 2021. 

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy asked the regulator why her office did not flag the amount of leftover prize money being spent on marketing in the first place, instead of being “forced to” by the C&AG.

Boate said that the licensing agreement is very clear on what she can and cannot publish.

“You haven’t set out in any meaningful way how the regulator protects consumers and takes proactive measures,” Deputy Carthy argued, highlighting the fact that it was “pressure from the public and members” of the Oireachtas that led to changes to the lottery being made after additional balls were added to the game. 

Boate said that her office ensures that Premier Lotteries comply with legislation, and monitors and enforces compliance with the license as well as looking out for the protection of consumers.

She pointed out that she intervened when the operator wanted to change the prize structure to double the amount of free tickets given away, as from a “player protection point of view it wasn’t acceptable.”

Deputy Kelly raised the question of whether a separate regulator was needed for the National Lottery. 

He argued that the differences between gambling and the lottery are becoming blurred due to the “mickey mouse games” the National Lottery offers online which he said are “highly addictive.”

Boate said that the National lottery is only allowed to offer a limited range of games, and that there is a spending cap of  €75 per day.

She said that 16% of National Lottery sales are online now, compared to 2% when she took up her office, but added that you cannot access instant games after 11pm.

Boate further added that as the National Lottery is state-owned with bespoke legislation and a regulator, there is a “huge difference” between the National Lottery channel and online gambling.

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