National Lottery scratch cards were missing €180,000 in prizes

Operator apologises for error and says funds will be added to special draw held in January

In one of the Congratulations games, on sale until July this year, four top jackpot prizes of €50,000 should have been winnable, but only two were created. Photograph: National Lottery

In one of the Congratulations games, on sale until July this year, four top jackpot prizes of €50,000 should have been winnable, but only two were created. Photograph: National Lottery

 

Scratch card prizes worth €180,000 were inadvertently left off cards sold by the operator of the National Lottery, the company confirmed on Wednesday, saying it was “deeply sorry” for the error.

Premier Lotteries Ireland, which is responsible for operating the lottery, apologised for the error, which occurred when four top prizes were not included in three of the 178 scratch card games that it has offered since taking over the licence in 2014.

The errors affected two scratch card games sold as Congratulations, which retailed at €5 per card, and a third marketed as Diamond Bingo Doubler, which sold for €3 each. The operator has refused to say how much income was generated by the sales of the cards, citing commercial sensitivity.

One of the cards was left on sale for six weeks after the issue emerged. PLI defended this by arguing the mistake relating to that card was that two prizes were supposed to be offered, but that only one prize was advertised and available. Therefore there was no disconnect with what consumers were told and what was in fact available. The regulator accepted this.

The operator said the omissions were discovered through an internal review of all National Lottery products which took place over the last six weeks, and blamed human error for the mistake. Lotto, EuroMillions, Daily Million and other National Lottery products were unaffected by these errors, and there was no impact on good causes supported by the lottery.

Public trust

However, the lottery operator and the regulator could face a hearing at the finance committee, with Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath calling on the pair to attend a session at the committee.

“Today’s revelation will undoubtedly damage public trust and confidence in the National Lottery. Without the trust of the general public, the success of the National Lottery is far from guaranteed. The fact that these prizes were not on offer for the past five years raises very serious questions for the National Lottery.”

Mr McGrath said it is “incredible” that some of the scratch cards were allowed to continue in circulation, even though the error emerged six weeks ago. “It would appear the regulator did not make this discovery and they too have questions to answer. The regulator needs to investigate how this issue did not surface until six weeks ago.” He also said PLI “need to explain how much revenue they collected on the back of selling these scratchcards when the prizes they were advertising were not available”.

It is the first time an error such as this, which affects the players of scratch card games, has been detected, a spokesman for the National Lottery said.

In one of the Congratulations games, on sale until July this year, four top jackpot prizes of €50,000 should have been winnable, but only two were created. In a second game in the same series, which ran from April 2019, two €50,000 prizes were supposed to be available to align with the approved prize structure, even though only one was advertised. In Diamond Bingo Doubler, which has not been sold since February 2017, there should have been four top jackpot prizes of €30,000, but there were in fact three.

The Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery is examining what breaches of legislation or the lottery licence may have occurred, and has written to the operator to commence a formal process examining the error.

In a statement, the regulator said its “core objective is to ensure that players and the integrity of the National Lottery are protected”. The regulator has approved the National Lottery’s proposal to return the omitted prize money to players by way of a special draw, and determined that the affected scratch card game still on sale should be withdrawn.

‘Deeply sorry’

Andrew Algeo, chief executive of the National Lottery, said the operator is “deeply sorry for these errors which should have been fixed before the games went on sale. We are committed to ensuring that our players are always treated fairly.

“New controls are now in place to ensure this does not happen again. We would like to reassure our players by pointing out that the total amount involved is less than 0.01 per cent of all our prizes of the last five years. The total value of the missing prizes will now be made available to our players through a special draw.”

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s News at One, lottery spokesman Paul Bradley said the operator “want(s) to ensure that people are treated fairly, we want them reassured. The total amount of prizes impacted is less than one per cent of all our prizes in the last five years,” he said.

The special draw will take place on January 6th, and will be for 180 prizes of €1,000. The total cost will be funded by PLI, and entrants into the normal Christmas bonus draws will also be entered into the special draw. Any income from the Christmas bonus draw above the level recorded in 2018 will be donated to charity.