Concerns raised about lottery funds as 98% of unclaimed prizes spent on marketing

Concerns raised about lottery funds as 98% of unclaimed prizes spent on marketing

Between 2015 and 2021 just over €124m of expired unclaimed prizes was forfeited — an average of around €17.7m per year.

Concerns have been raised concerning the National Lottery after it was revealed that 98%, or some €120m, of unclaimed prizes goes into marketing.

Winning lottery players failed to claim more than €124m between 2015 and 2021, an investigation by Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy into the lottery operator accounts showed.

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a watchdog for State spending, heard that under its contract, lottery operator Premier Lotteries Ireland DAC must use unclaimed prize money within a year to promote the lottery but that must include funding additional prizes.

While some of this money is permitted to be used for marketing, Mr McCarthy found that by the end of 2021, some 98% of unclaimed funds had been used in this manner, with just 2% allocated for additional prizes.

Mr McCarthy’s report recommended that the Lotto regulator “consider including additional information in the National Lottery Fund accounts to enable users of those accounts to see more clearly that the key provisions of the licence are being complied with, in particular around the amounts allocated to the Exchequer annually".

PAC chairperson, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, raised concerns about the prominent advertising of the lottery and asked whether it needed tighter regulation in the context of gambling addiction.

He called for stricter regulation and controls of the National Lottery to ensure that good causes receive a share of unclaimed prize money.

We need to see stronger enforcement by the regulator and stricter controls within the licence and the committee will be proposing these changes in our report to the minister.

The lottery fund’s income in 2021 totalled €682m, with €287m paid into the prize fund in 2021. The operator’s entitlement for the year was €103m. Almost €290m was transferred to the Exchequer.

Annual sales for National Lottery games increased by 64% between 2015 and 2021, rising from €670m to around €1.1bn.

Carol Boate, regulator of the National Lottery, said that the compound annual growth rate of sales is approximately 8%.

“This equates to overall growth in sales of 57% from 2015 to 2021 and growth in good-causes earnings of 61% in the same period,” she said.

“The impact on good causes earnings has been an increase from €188m in 2015 to €304m in 2021.” 

She said that the returns to good causes and prizes won remained relatively consistent as a proportion of sales over the seven years, at 27.6% and 28.85%.

This was unsurprising given the licence agreement, which aligns the operator’s commercial interests with the returns to the State.

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