By Joe Leogue
The National Lottery was blocked from releasing scratch cards based on the popular Monopoly board game — because the lotto watchdog feared they would appeal to children.
Carol Boate, Regulator of the National Lottery, yesterday told the Oireachtas Finance Committee Premier Lotteries Ireland, awarded a 20-year licence for the National Lottery in 2014, has since made 113 requests to the regulator including new lottery games, new service providers, and changes to Codes of Practice for Sales.
Ms Boate said that 87 of these requests were approved, 19 were rejected, and seven withdrawn. Six of the rejected proposals were Monopoly-themed games.
“It is one of the biggest-selling scratch cards in the world, and then you get online versions, and that was refused by my predecessor because it would be of particular appeal to children,” she said. “We try and make sure the National Lottery games are not attractive to someone who is under 18.”
TDs have raised concerns about a possible “light touch regulation” of the National Lottery and queried how the operator spends unclaimed prizes.
The Oireachtas Finance Committee also discussed the National Lottery’s rapid growth since Premier Lotteries Ireland took over the running of the lotto from the State in 2014.
Premier Lotteries Ireland’s operation of the lottery is subject to oversight from Carol Boate, regulator of the National Lottery, who yesterday appeared before the Finance Committee.
She told the committee that Premier Lotteries Ireland’s operations are subject to four code of practices and that Premier Lotteries Ireland drafts these and submits them to her office for approval. Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty questioned if this was appropriate oversight.
“The idea that Ulster Bank would submit to the regulator in the Central Bank and say ‘this is the way we want you to deal with this’ — that wouldn’t be on. We’d call that light-touch regulation,” he said.
“Do you think it is appropriate that the Sales Code of Practice would be actually drafted by the entity that you are regulating?”
Ms Boate agreed the arrangement is “‘unusual” but said it is also unusual for a regulator to oversee just one company. She said the State signed a contract with Premier Lotteries Ireland and her job was to ensure the conditions of that contract are met.
Mr Doherty said the new operators have aggressively expanded the National Lottery’s operations since 2014
I would contend very strongly that we have got the balance all wrong here since a private company came over and took over the contract which they are paying for, but also making huge profits as a result,” he said.
“When the State handed over to Premier Lotteries Ireland there were 3,700 retail agents in the state in 2014. Since then, 2,019 new retail agents are now selling the National Lottery. This is out of control, a runaway train,” he said.
Mr Doherty and the Fianna Fáil committee chair John McGuinness queried how Premier Lotteries Ireland spends unclaimed prizes.
It can use the fund to top up future prizes, donate to good causes, and add it to its existing marketing budget. However, the allocation within these three categories is entirely at the discretion of the operators.
“There is nothing definite within the licence that tells the operator how much must go in terms of topping up prizes, in terms of marketing, or in terms of good causes,” said Mr McGuinness.
Let’s just say there’s €15m in unclaimed prizes in one year. They can split up that €15m in any way they wish, and weight it towards the marketing and there’s nothing you can do about it?
The regulator confirmed this was the case and said that while she knows the spending breakdown, a confidentiality agreement prohibits her from revealing it.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.