Pressure grows to ban betting on the Lotto 

Irish bookies have been taking bets on National Lottery draws for 30 years, but a new bill proposes to outlaw such activities, writes Sean Murray
Pressure grows to ban betting on the Lotto 

People can sometimes win more money betting on lottery numbers with bookmakers than on the National Lottery.

On an episode of Liveline this week, in the wake of 47 consecutive rollovers of the jackpot, Joe Duffy heard from a series of incredulous people who bet on the National Lottery regularly.

One man, who was just one number short of the jackpot, won just €516.

“I nearly fell off my chair, Joe,” he said, when he found out the amount.

Another caller rang in to say he was making big money by betting on the lottery — but not by buying a quick pick. He bets in the bookies instead. And he said he’d made tens of thousands of euros doing so.

While the so-called “unwinnable” National Lottery has been catapulted to prominence again, behind the scenes there is lobbying going on over a new law that would prevent you from betting on the National Lottery in the bookies.

In recent months, bookmakers have sought to lobby members of the Oireachtas not to support the bill, which would see them banned from accepting bets on the National Lottery.

Since the formation of the National Lottery in the 1980s, bookmakers in Ireland have taken bets on the outcome of the lottery draws, offering a different set of odds to the regular lotto.

The new bill is strongly supported by the operator of the National Lottery, which it says is needed to protect the funding it provides for good causes around the country.

However, bookmakers say prohibiting the placing of such bets excludes competition, results in a net loss to Revenue, and potentially puts jobs at risk. Bookmakers also say it would not have the “direct policy outcome of increasing the good causes fund”.

The price to buy an official ticket for the Lotto on Saturdays and Wednesdays, or the Euromillions on Tuesdays and Fridays, is fixed.

However, in bookmakers, the customer can choose how many numbers they want to bet on and their stake — this can be above or below the price of the fixed National Lottery tickets.

Bookmakers also offer better odds on the chance of some numbers appearing out of the Lotto draw than the National Lottery, with the exception of the main jackpot.

So, for example, anyone who matched three numbers in the National Lottery draw on November 20 would have won €9. The minimum ticket price is €4. Betting €1 on three numbers in the bookies would net you between €330 and €400 (if you include the bonus).

It must be emphasised that the chances of matching these numbers, given the amount of numbers actually in the draw, is very low in either case.

The ‘winnability’ of the Lotto has been highlighted frequently in recent weeks, as the jackpot has rolled over since June and, on the aforementioned Liveline show, callers were disappointed at the low return they were
getting for their numbers coming up.

The National Lottery has lobbied the Government in the past to change the law to prevent bookies from taking bets on the outcome of its draws. According to the private members bill tabled by Fine Gael senators, the bill seeks to outlaw the use by private operators of the National Lottery’s activities to profit or otherwise make further betting offers.

In other words, if the bill becomes law, you would no longer be able to go into a bookmaker and bet on certain numbers to come out in the next Lotto draw.

The National Lottery is run by Premier Lotteries Ireland, which was granted a 20-year licence by the Government in 2014 to run
the National Lottery. It is majority-owned by a Canadian investment firm, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

The licence to operate the National Lottery states that Premier Lotteries must allocate 65% of its gross revenue from gaming —  which is its total ticket sales minus prize money — to good causes each year.

The National Lottery says this roughly translates to 30c of every €1 worth of tickets sold going to good causes. The funding goes towards sectors including sport, heritage, arts and culture, and youth services.

Behind the scenes, both sides of the debate have tried to lobby policymakers in this area.

Flutter Entertainment, which runs Paddy Power in Ireland, sought a meeting with Fine Gael senator Barry Ward. Mr Ward was among the senators who have pushed the bill to ban betting on the Lotto in the bookies.

As well as calling Mr Ward, Premier Lotteries Ireland wrote to Michael McGrath, the public expenditure and reform minister, to seek support for the bill.

Mr Ward told the Irish Examiner that he decided to put forward the bill after discovering the mother of a friend of his liked to bet on the lottery in the bookmakers.

“I became aware she would deliberately go to the bookies rather than buy a National Lottery ticket,” he said.

“Then I looked into it and found that more money goes into the good-causes fund than I’d realised.”

The Fine Gael senator said he had “no particular grá” for the National Lottery, but he put forward the bill so that money spent on betting on the Lotto goes back towards good causes, rather than private companies “profiteering” off a competition run through a licence granted by the State.

Mr Ward said he “wasn’t convinced” by arguments put forward by the bookmakers on the issue that the move could put jobs at risk.

“Nobody wants to see jobs going,” he said. “I’m quite sure they would lose out [if the bill is passed], but not to that extent.”

He said there were varying estimates as to how much money could be diverted into the National Lottery’s good-causes fund, but “even if it were €3m, it would be worth doing”.

This legislation has been put forward separate from the landmark, and long-awaited, reforms of the gambling industry. First proposed by the government in 2013, James Browne, the junior justice minister, last month published the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill.

The bill passed through the second stage of the Seanad at the end of September and, while there is no clear timeline for its progress, Mr Ward is confident it will receive the support necessary to pass.

Sharon Byrne of the Irish Bookmakers Association told the Irish Examiner that betting shops offer an entirely different product than the National Lottery, in that customers can choose their stake and how many numbers they want to bet on coming out in the draw.

“Given these differences in product, customer research suggests it is unlikely that betting shop customers will simply move to play more National Lottery games if the product is removed,” she said.

In a statement, Flutter Entertainment said that its “numbers product” has been offered in Paddy Power shops for over 30 years.

“The success of the National Lottery during that time suggests that both products are distinct and can exist side by side,” it said.

“We believe the removal of this product would be unpopular with Paddy Power customers and would jeopardise retail jobs across a sector that has faced a prolonged period of difficulty as a result of the Covid pandemic.”

A Premier Lotteries Ireland spokesperson said it was aware of the proposed ban on bookmakers offering bets on the outcome of the National Lottery.

They said this legislation would bring Ireland “in line with most other European countries including the UK, France, and Spain”.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

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