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Regulator withheld €‎150,000 from National Lottery over handling of problem gambling accounts

The breach concerned the handling of online accounts which users had self-excluded.

THE OFFICE OF the Regulator of the National Lottery (ORNL) has today released its annual report for 2022 and among the findings was a case in which Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) had €‎150,000 withheld by the regulator over a “breach of the license”. 

The breach concerned the handling of online accounts which users had self-excluded, an option which aims to protect problem gamblers. PLI deleted 126 such accounts in error in October 2021 and the regulator appointed an investigator to look into the matter.

“It was discovered that this was due to an algorithm designed to delete closed accounts after two years in order to comply with GDPR. However, the Operator had previously voluntarily introduced a new permanent self-exclusion option for players in 2019 to prevent problem gaming,” the regulator said in a statement accompanying the report.

These deleted accounts should have been maintained by PLI as permanently closed to prevent their owners from opening new accounts, the statement continued.

“It was found that 16 of the affected players had, in fact, opened a new account. Ten of these players purchased tickets through their new accounts, totalling €3,292 in sales, and four players received marketing emails from the Operator,” the statement read, adding that “accounts that were temporarily self-excluded were not affected”. 

The sum of €‎150,000 was “subsequently transferred to the Exchequer for Good Causes”.

As a result of the precedent set by this action, the regulator said it is now empowered to seek a financial sanction for similar future breaches.

“As well as withholding monies from the Operator, enhanced controls have since been put in place to detect and prevent any self-excluded player from opening another account.

“On foot of the statutory finding and direction, the Regulator is now empowered to seek a financial sanction by the High Court on the Operator for any future non-compliance with this direction. 

“This effectively creates a new sanction for future breaches of self-exclusion controls.” 

Carol Boate, head regulator of the National Lottery said that there were “both opportunities and obstacles” for her office in 2022, “particularly in the interests of player protection.”

“The introduction of mandatory age and identity verification checks for all online players has created even tighter controls for opening a National Lottery account online.”

Boate said she was “confident” that the measure had already “deterred and prevented underage and problem gamers from accessing National Lottery games online” and that this included those who self-exclude.

The effect of the finding of a breach by the Operator in respect of self-excluded players has been to further tighten controls that detect and prevent such players from opening another account.

“The creation of a new potential sanction before the High Court lays down a marker that says there can be no further breach by the Operator of its obligations to players who choose to self-exclude.” 

Elsewhere in the 2022 report, the regulator said that new security features on the lottery’s online channel had been put in place. They include new mandatory age and identity verification checks of all online players.

“This provides increased protection against underage play and players attempting to circumvent limits on spending, or a self-exclusion period.”

The report also disclosed that online sales had not grown relative to retail sales for the first time ever. 

It also stated that National Lottery sales had decreased for the first time since 2014.

The regulator said that sales had decreased by 16% compared with 2021, which was partially put down to a surge in 2021 sales when the unwon jackpot kept mounting week on week. 

“Sales for the year were €884.1 million in a return to pre-pandemic levels (2019: €884.5 million). A decrease was expected given the unprecedented Lotto jackpot rollover which drove higher than normal sales in 2021, followed by the impact on household budgets of rising inflation during 2022.”

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