The operators of the National Lottery have defended the use of the vast majority of unclaimed prizes on advertising its games in the face of sharp criticism by members of the Dáil’s public spending watchdog.
Representatives of Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) were accused of “taking the piss” by allocating just 2 per cent of almost €122 million in expired unclaimed winnings for extra prizes, with the rest being spent on marketing.
Its chief executive Andrew Algeo defended the practice during an appearance at the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
He insisted that the advertising spend is the best way to promote the National Lottery to ensure it is sustainable and to increase sums for prize money and good causes.
A Comptroller and Auditor General report outlined how there has been just over €124 million in unclaimed prizes since 2015.
By the end of 2021 almost €122 million had been used for the promotion of the National Lottery and its games.
Of this, 98 per cent - or €120 million - had been spent on marketing with the remaining 2 per cent - under €2 million - spent on top-up prizes.
PLI began operating the National Lottery in 2014 and Mr Algeo said that since then around €1.7 billion has been raised for good causes.
He said it operates in an “intensely competitive market” and it is “essential” the National Lottery is promoted to ensure its continued success.
Mr Algeo said the license designed by the State was designed to ensure unclaimed prizes do not go to the profits of the operator but are instead used to promote the National Lottery.
He said the proportion of prize funds going unclaimed has almost halved since PLI took over.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said: “You’re taking the piss really in terms of what you’re giving towards top-up prizes”.
He put it to Mr Algeo that the operators were doing the “absolutely bare minimum”.
Mr Algeo said the company strictly complies with its licence.
He added that how to promote the National Lottery “might actually be one of the more critical decisions that PLI has to make and we take it very seriously that we do it in a way which sustains the National Lottery as best we can.”
Earlier Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said the breakdown of the spend of the unclaimed prize money is “of real concern” to the PAC as “there’s a sharpness to it” and “we feel it wouldn’t have been apparent to players... without the C&AG’s report”.
Mr Algeo said: “We make the decision based on what is the optimal use of that money in order to sustain the National Lottery and grow the amount of goes to good causes”.
Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster highlighted a request made by PLI to the C&AG that the breakdown of spend of the unclaimed prizes not be included in the report and questioned if this was acceptable.
He said details of a companies’ spent on marketing is “confidential universally in the commercial sector” and it is not in the interest of the National Lottery to publish it.
Ms Munster put it to him that PLI was free to use a higher proportion of unclaimed winnings for top-up prizes.
He said the decision is made to put the majority of it into marketing because this is more effective in growing prizes and funds for good causes.