The attorney general has been dragged into a row between the Department of Public Expenditure and the National Lottery over €16 million in unclaimed prize money.
The dispute dates back to when the National Lottery was privatised and sold to Canadian-owned Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) in 2014.
As part of the process, PLI inherited €16 million in unclaimed prize money from the previous licence holder, An Post.
The department believes the unclaimed prize pot should accrue to the exchequer via good causes as it was generated by the previous licencee. However, PLI contends it is entitled to use the money on promotions as per the current rules.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure confirmed officials had sought the advice of Attorney General Séamus Woulfe on the matter.
“Under the terms of the existing National Lottery licence, Premier Lotteries Ireland can utilise unclaimed prizes [those which are not claimed for 90 days of the draw date] for the promotion of the National Lottery. This is not in dispute,” she said, noting the “query” centred on monies generated before the current operator took over.
“ These monies are currently held in the National Lottery fund, which is managed and controlled by the National Lottery regulator,” she said. “ The department remains of the view, based on our expert legal advice, that these historic unclaimed prizes can be transferred by the regulator to the exchequer to be utilised by good causes.”
Under the rules, winners have 90 days to collect their prize, after which they forfeit any right to the money. After that point, the operator can then legally use the money to promote various games and draws either through jackpot top-ups or other marketing campaigns. The unclaimed prize pot has become a significant revenue stream for the operator, amounting to about 2 per cent of annual sales which equates to around €16 million a year.
“Discussions have been ongoing for some time and will continue to do so in an effort to resolve the matter,” a PLI spokesman said. “PLI believes the €16 million in unclaimed prizes should go towards the player prize fund as this is unclaimed prize money that accumulated over 27 years of the National Lottery under the old licence,” the spokesman said. “Adding special prizes will make games more attractive and will increase sales thereby increasing the contribution to good causes.”
The biggest unclaimed win on record was for a €4.3 million jackpot, dating back to June 30th, 2001. The ticket was sold in Coolock in Dublin, and despite a campaign to find the winner no one ever came forward. More recently, a winning ticket worth just under €3 million sold in Mayo in 2014 went unclaimed.
The European Lotto Betting Association (ELBA), an industry body representing so-called bet-on-lotto operators, accused the National Lottery last year of "shrinking good cause contributions" by keeping the unclaimed prize money.
It was responding to comments National Lottery chief executive Dermot Griffin, who had claimed these operators were "siphoning off" money for good causes and "piggybacking" on the State's lottery games by allowing punters bet on the outcome without buying a ticket.