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Investigation into how top prizes were not included in some National Lottery games being considered

Here’s what you need to know about top prizes not being included in some National Lottery games

Updated Dec 12th 2019, 1:03 PM

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said the government is open to an independent investigation into how four jackpot prizes worth a total of €180,000 were left out of three scratch card games in recent years. 

The National Lottery apologised yesterday that four of the top prizes were not included in three of the 178 scratch card games that have been offered since 2014.

A spokesperson said the mistake was due to human error. 

Coveney told the Dáil that it was a very “serious issue” adding that “real questions need to be answered”. 

It is “not acceptable to dismiss this as human error”, he said, stating: 

“The integrity of the this system needs to be protected.”

He agreed with calls by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty that the regulator and the operators of the National Lottery must appear before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions on the matter. 

Coveney added that he isn’t against an independent investigation also being held into the case “to ensure the public have confidence in the lottery that people play on a daily basis”. 

He told the Dáil that €855 million of lottery money goes to charitable causes and that needed to be protected. 

“I play the lottery and I do so in the knowledge that many of the proceeds go to charitable causes and community projects, but also in the knowledge that the lottery is a form of gambling that requires proper regulation.

“The fact that four jackpot prizes across three games operated by Premier Lotteries were missing due to ‘human error’ or some improbable misfortune is hard to believe.

“In one of these games, the number of prizes in the game was designed to be no less than 976,500. The probability that, out of all the prizes, the jackpot prize would be missing is nearly one in a million,” said Doherty.

congratulations-lobby Source: National Lottery

The National Lottery said the issue was discovered following an internal review of all lottery products six weeks ago. However, one of the affected cards remained on sale as of yesterday.

Here is a breakdown of what you need to know.

Which scratch cards were affected?

A game called ‘Diamond Bingo Doubler’ and two versions of the ‘Congratulations’ game were affected by the issue.

In one of the Congratulations games there should have been four cards for sale with prizes of €50,000, but there were only two.

diamond-bingo-doubler-lobby Source: National Lottery

In another Congratulations game, there should have been two cards with prizes of €50,000, but there was only one.

In one Diamond Bingo Doubler game, there should have been four cards for sale with prizes of €30,000, but there were only three.

As of yesterday, one of the cards in question remained on sale and the National Lottery began the process of withdrawing it.

How did the error emerge?

The error was uncovered six weeks ago following an internal review of all National Lottery products. It’s unclear as to why a review was conducted in the first place.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One yesterday, National Lottery spokesperson Paul Bradley said the mistake meant people thought they could win prizes that actually weren’t available. 

“We’re very sorry that the mistake has taken place,” Bradley said.

It was human error and we’ve changed our processes and our controls, to improve them, so it doesn’t happen again.

“We are desperately sorry and we want to ensure that people are treated fairly. It’s very important to us that they are reassured and our players are reassured.”

Bradley said a special draw will take place on 6 January in which 180 prizes of €1,000 each will be won. 

A spokesperson also confirmed that Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI), the operator of the lottery, will “forego any contribution from sales of these Christmas scratch cards” by donating additional contributions to youth mental health charity Jigsaw.

The spokesperson said the National Lottery “took immediate steps to review” its entire game portfolio upon discovering the error. They said just 0.01% of all prizes were impacted over the last five years and other games including the main Lotto draw and the EuroMillions were not affected.

Questions raised

Speaking to Morning Ireland today, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said it is a “very, very serious issue” and raised a number of questions.

“It is deeply suspicious that this has happened on three occasions and it is always the top prize that is being left out,” Doherty said.

He stated that there no such issues with National Lottery games prior to it being sold in 2014, stating: “In my view it should never have been sold and we never had an issue with it before it went into private hands.

“Out of a total of about 1.5 million cards that were printed in these three games and prizes associated with them, there were four cards that weren’t printed and those four cards just happened to be not with a €3 prize or a €5 prize but the four cards included the top prizes,” Doherty said.

Who owns the National Lottery?

The National Lottery was established by the government in 1986 and began trading in 1987. It was initially owned by An Post, but the government put the licence to operate it up for sale to raise money during the recession.

It was eventually sold to a consortium made up of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, An Post and the An Post pension funds.

Under that agreement, a private firm ultimately co-owned by the trio (PLI) was awarded a 20-year licence in 2014 to operate the National Lottery.

The Canadian pension fund ultimately controls the majority of PLI’s shares, with An Post and its pension funds holding minority stakes.

The relevant legislation was updated with the National Lottery Act 2013, which replaced the previous laws and established a regulator to oversee the lottery.

PLI paid the government with an upfront sum of €405 million to secure the contract.

What will happen now?

In a statement, the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery said it was notified of the scratch card issue last month.

“Premier Lotteries Ireland DAC, the operator of the National Lottery, notified my Office of the anomalies in November 2019,” it said.

The regulator said it had sought to ensure the National Lottery would find and implement a solution to return the value of the prizes to scratch card players at “the earliest opportunity”.

The statement added that a proposal to return the prize money through a special New Year’s draw, funded by the PLI, has been approved. “I also determined that the affected scratch card game still on sale should be withdrawn,” the regulator’s statement said.

However, Doherty and others have said this is not good enough, stating that the it is up to the regulator to monitor how the National Lottery is run and that the office “completely failed in this regard”.

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath yesterday said the error raises “very serious questions” for both PLI and the regulator.

McGrath said he has written to the chairman of the Oireachtas Finance Committee to propose bringing the regulator and the operator to answer questions in front of the committee at the earliest date possible. He said “revelation will undoubtedly damage public trust and confidence in the National Lottery”.

“Without the trust of the general public, the success of the National lottery is far from guaranteed. The fact that these prizes were not on offer for the past five years raises very serious questions.”

Contains reporting by Orla Dwyer and Sean Murray

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Órla Ryan

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