€124m in unclaimed Lotto prizes since 2014, C&AG report finds

€124m in unclaimed Lotto prizes since 2014, C&AG report finds

The 2021 report on the finances of the public services by Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy, published on Friday, reveals that €17.7m on average per year is returned to the lottery in unclaimed prizes.

Ireland’s lottery regulator has admitted to a need for “greater transparency” from the National Lottery after it was revealed that it had accumulated €124m in unclaimed prizes since 2014.

The 2021 report on the finances of the public services by Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) Seamus McCarthy, published on Friday, reveals that €17.7m on average per year is returned to the lottery in unclaimed prizes.

The vast majority of that €124m total, €122m, has since been spent on promoting and advertising the lottery itself.

Nearly all of that €120m, 98%, is then spent on marketing for the lottery, with the remaining €2m going on top-up prizes.

Meanwhile, it is understood that the National Lottery, upon learning that the C&AG planned to audit the exchequer’s receipts from National Lottery ticket sales, objected to its inclusion in that audit on the basis that it is a private entity.

While the company behind the lottery — Premier Lotteries Ireland — is a private one, the regulator itself is a State body.

When the C&AG informed the lottery that it would be proceeding with its report, the lottery requested sight of its contents and then suggested that the report be redacted due to parts of it being confidential. The C&AG did not agree and published the information in full.

In a statement Premier Lotteries Ireland said that it “welcomes” the C&AG’s report.

The company said the report “makes clear” that the growth in benefit for prize winners and good causes over the past decade “has been achieved in accordance with the terms of the Government’s licence”, and that this licence includes “the stipulation” that expired unclaimed prizes may be used by the company “to promote the National Lottery”.

Regarding the fact that the lottery had sought for the report to be redacted, a spokesperson confirmed the company has asked that “a small amount of confidential information (be) redacted from the report”, adding that nevertheless the company “warmly welcome(s) the report’s findings”.

In his report the C&AG makes only one recommendation regarding the lottery — that it should “consider” including “additional information” that would allow people viewing the lottery’s accounts to see that the licence is being complied with.

Such information could include the annual total returned to the lottery in terms of unclaimed prizes, along with the proportion of lottery ticket sales returned to the State, he said.

Responding to the C&AG, the lottery regulator said it “partially agreed” with that recommendation.

It said that it is “not the purpose” of the National Lottery’s accounts to provide information regarding whether or not the licence is being complied with.

“However, it is accepted that transparency and understanding could be improved,” it said. 

It added that its current strategy includes a “key” component to “provide more accessible information to the public on how the National Lottery is regulated and returns for good causes are calculated and transferred to the Exchequer”.

The aim of that strategy “is to provide greater transparency and understanding of the National Lottery and work has begun on implementing it,” the regulator said.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said that the C&AG’s recommendation “must be acted upon”.

She said the report “indicates that it is not clear whether key provisions of the Lotto’s operating licence are being complied with”.

“I hope the recommendations, when adopted, will provide us with an opportunity to properly examine the fund from an operational and accounting perspective,” she said.

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