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National Lottery operator refuses to reveal full details of how unclaimed prize money is used

PLI strongly opposed the release of any information about unclaimed prizes, even limited data on the number of special events and winners of prizes funded by unclaimed prizes.
Dec 31st 2019, 11:00 AM 23,200 78

THE OPERATORS OF the National Lottery has refused to state how much of €72.4m in unclaimed prizes it returns to players in the form of special draws and top-up prizes.

Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation, however, show Premier Lotteries Ireland used the proceeds of unclaimed prize funds to support almost 40 “special events” between November 2014 when it took over the licence to operate the National Lottery and December 2018.

Records released by the Regulator of the National Lottery reveal that there were over 800 winners of additional prizes through a variety of player promotions and competitions in the space of just over four years.

“Tactical promotion”

They show PLI ran one “tactical promotion” using €100,000 from the unclaimed prize fund in May 2018 which was expected to give a top-up prize of a €20,000 holiday to any winner of the Lotto Match 5 + Bonus prize.

Another promotion entered players who played an online version of Stacks of Cash, €50,000 Richer and Flamin’ Hot Numbers during one week in May 2016 into another draw for a prize of a €1,000 sun holiday.

A Telly Bingo promotion run over eight weeks in the summer of 2018 gave Snowball winners an additional prize of a €1,000 holiday.

More than three-quarters of all winners received prizes in special draws that did not require purchase of a National Lottery game and which are likely to have involved smaller amounts of money.

90369848 The National Lottery offices on Abbey Street, Dublin. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Over 210 prizes were given out through competitions on Facebook.

PLI strongly opposed the release of any information about unclaimed prizes, even limited data on the number of special events and winners of prizes funded by unclaimed prizes.

Under the terms of the licence awarded to PLI, the company is allowed to retain all prize funds unclaimed after 90 days for marketing lottery products but can also use the money for special draws and top-up or additional prizes.

In contrast, unclaimed prizes go towards good causes if unclaimed after 180 days in the UK, while the vast bulk of unclaimed prizes were returned to players in the form of larger jackpot before the National Lottery was privatised in November 2014.

PLI is a consortium between An Post and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which also owns Camelot, the UK lottery operator.

Unclaimed prize funds

Details of the amount of unclaimed prize funds available to PLI were only published after the Office of the Information Commissioner directed that such figures should be released.

PLI had previously only disclosed that €6.9 million had been unclaimed in “top-tier” prizes up to the end of 2017.

The company has disputed the view of both the lottery regulator and the Office of the Information Commissioner that using unclaimed prize funds for marketing purposes represents “a benefit-in-kind” and that the scale of unclaimed prizes was directly related to the €405 million which PLI paid for a 20-year licence in 2014.

However, the OIC noted that PLI acknowledged that the treatment of unclaimed prizes was one of many relevant issues it considered in determining the size of its bid for the licence.

Although the level of unclaimed prize funds can vary from year to year and is expected to decline with the growth of National Lottery games played online, it averages around 2.3 per cent of total sales.

90369899 Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Records also show that the lottery regulator, Carol Boate, sought but was refused permission by PLI to release details about the amount of unclaimed prize funds when such information was sought by Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty in 2018.

The regulator’s office is aware of how much money from the unclaimed prize fund is returned as prizes but claims it is not allowed to disclose what PLI regards as “commercially sensitive” information under the terms of the lottery licence.

PLI claims there is evidence that allowing unclaimed prizes to be used for the promotion of National Lottery games is “paying off” in helping it meet the objective of maximising funds for good causes.

The amount of National Lottery proceeds made available for good causes increased from €188m in 2015 to €226.8m in 2017 but fell back slightly last year to €224.6m.

PLI remains locked in a long-running dispute with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform over €16m in unclaimed prizes which the company inherited when it took over the licence from An Post.

The department maintains that the money should be returned to the Exchequer while PLI claims it should be entitled to retain it to promote the National Lottery.

In a statement PLI said it operated the National Lottery in accordance with the terms of its licence and was monitored by an independent regulator.

The company said it had invested significantly in modernising the lottery and implementing a successful growth strategy.

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Seán McCárthaigh


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