‘Punters scammed’ by lottery operators in case of missing prizes, Dáil told

Odds of jackpot being omitted across three card scratch games are ‘one in 25 million billion’ - Doherty

Pearse Doherty called for an independent investigation into the issue. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Pearse Doherty called for an independent investigation into the issue. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Punters have been “scammed” by the operators of the national lottery in the scratch card competitions where the jackpot prizes were omitted, the Dáil has been told.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said “the numbers simply don’t stack up” and the operator of the national lottery Premier Lotteries and the regulator had a lot of questions to answer.

He said in one game there were to be no less than 976,500 prizes so the probability that “out of all those prizes that the jackpot prize would be missing is nearly one in a million,” he said.

“The probability that out of all the prizes that four jackpot prizes across three games would be missing, is one in 25 million billion.”

He said it was unbelievable and asked Tánaiste Simon Coveney to back his call for an independent investigation into the issue after it emerged that four jackpot prizes worth a total of €180,000 were left out of three National Lottery scratch card games in the past few years.

Four of the top prizes were not included in three of the 178 scratch card games that have been offered since 2014, when operator Premier Lotteries Ireland took over the licence for running the lottery.

Mr Doherty said the investigation was essential “so we can have confidence in our system”.

The operator said the omission came to light in a recent internal review and described it as “human error” but Mr Doherty also criticised the company which he said continued to sell the scratch cards for six weeks afterwards.

The company had made enormous sales of €20 million on the scratch cards and “there is no talk of refunds”.

The Tánaiste agreed there are “real questions to answer” on the issue and it was “not acceptable to dismiss this as human error”.

He said the Government was open to an independent investigation “because the integrity is hugely important given the importance of prizes for charity and good causes”.

They wanted to get the operator and regulator before the Oireachtas and then if necessary ensure an “independent investigation in a credible way”.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader also sharply criticised the regulator who he said “has only one responsibility and that is to regulate one company” but they “failed to notice this omission despite having access to all the data when punters have been scammed to the level they have”.

He said the number of retail outlets where the lottery sold has increased by 66 per cent since the operator took over and “unclaimed prizes are being pumped into advertising and promotion” instead of to prizes and charitable causes

Hitting out at the “flawed” legislation underpinning the lottery, he said “this private operator writes its own code of conduct and sends it to the regulator for approval”.

He said the Government had sold the licence to help fund the national children’s hospital but the €450 million would go nowhere to meeting that cost.

Mr Coveney said the scratch cards jackpots of €180,000 represented about 1.356 per cent of total prize fund of those games.

He stressed the importance of the lottery which since 2015 had raised €855 million for good causes.

The Tánaiste said the Government needed to have a fuller understanding and to get to the detail and set the appropriate course of action.