The lottery’s got too big, say shopkeepers

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The National Lottery has been criticised over an “explosion” of online instant-win games as well as plans to expand the range of places where its tickets are sold.

The Retail Grocery Dairy & Allied Trades Association (RGDATA), the representative body of small shopkeepers, said yesterday that there was a danger that the National Lottery was straying far from its original purpose.

Tara Buckley, director general of the association, said that the National Lottery was planning to roll out “Lotto Light”, offering a limited selection of games, at a range of new locations which could include bookshops, cafés, restaurants, barbers and any shop with a till.

Addressing the Oireachtas finance committee, Ms Buckley said the relationship between the association’s members and Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI), the new operators of the National Lottery, was generally “positive and constructive”. She said it was to be expected that PLI would take whatever steps were necessary to build and grow its business in order to secure a return on its €405 million investment on a 20-year franchise to operate the lottery.

However, she said that her 3,500 members were concerned that PLI would seek to operate a different commission structure for new locations compared to the 6 per cent margin that existing retailers had secured only as a result of pressure on the government.

The committee heard that the number of shops selling National Lottery tickets had already grown by 1,500 to 5,200 since PLI took over in 2014.

In recent months, PLI has unfurled its €3 million “Star Store” initiative, which rewards retailers for increased sales.

Asked about sales of Lotto tickets after price increases and changes to the draw format in 2014, Ms Buckley said that sales levels increased in tandem with the size of jackpots.

The association also called on the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery (RNL) to take a more proactive and public role.

“We believe the National Lottery regulator needs to become more public, find its voice and make its priorities and activities better known to the wider public,” Ms Buckley said.

She said that shopkeepers had never been provided with an independent and authoritative explanation for the technical issues that caused a cancellation of a lottery draw in 2015 for the first time in its 30-year history.

Ms Buckley said that the RNL also needed to “step up to the plate” to address the growth in online gaming, which had resulted from the availability of 21 different instant games, and explain what measures were being taken to protect vulnerable players.

“The impact of this rapid roll out of online lottery products needs to be assessed independently and objectively,” she said. “The regulator needs to demonstrate effectiveness in promoting the protection of the public interest.”

Michael McGrath, the Fianna Fáil finance spokesman, said that there should be a limit on new games that the National Lottery could introduce.

He claimed the net effect of having so many games was to seek to introduce more people to gambling.

“Having 21 different Lotto products just seems bananas to me,” Mr McGrath said. He criticised the multiplicity of games which he said were “constantly in people’s faces”.

The committee heard that controls on online games restricted players to a daily limit of €75, a weekly limit of €300 and a monthly limit of €900.

Liam Sloyan, the National Lottery regulator, said that ten out of 69 submissions made by PLI for issues requiring approval had been rejected or withdrawn for a variety of reasons, including probity and player protection.

Mr Sloyan said the RNL had made no findings against PLI of any breaches of its licence to date since his office was established in 2014.

He confirmed that an investigation was continuing into a dispute between the parties over whether sales agents were allowed to “upsell” tickets to customers after the issue was highlighted on RTÉ Radio One.

David Cullinane, a Sinn Féin TD, questioned whether Mr Sloyan had acted in the interests of consumers when price increases were sanctioned, which lowered the chance of players winning big prizes. Mr Sloyan said he was satisfied that he had done his job.

Last year 1.4 million people played lottery games on a regular basis, representing more than 40 per cent of the adult population. Almost 70 per cent of adults play occasionally.

Total sales from Lotto games last year were €530 million, and revenue from scratch cards and online instant-win games was €220 million. Online sales account for 5 per cent of all sales.

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