The regulator of the National Lottery withheld €150,000 in payments due to operator Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) last year, after it emerged a mechanism it put in place to allow problem gamblers permanently self-exclude themselves from being able to open an account failed.
PLI was also directed by the regulator, using its statutory enforcement powers, to take actions to comply with its obligations under its licence.
The action marked the first occasion that payments were withheld from the operator due to a breach of its obligations.
The issue involved 126 permanently accounts where the owners have self-excluded themselves.
These accounts were deleted in error by PLI in October of 2021, through an algorithm designed to automatically delete closed accounts after two years to comply with data protection rules.
This was despite the operator voluntarily introducing a new permanent self-exclusion option for players in 2019, designed to prevent problem gambling.
The regulator found that the deleted accounts should have been maintained by the operator as permanently closed so that their owners could not open new ones.
Its investigation found that as a result of the error, 16 players had opened a new account and ten had bought tickets through their new accounts, totalling €3,292.
Four of the players had marketing emails sent to them from the operator.
Enhanced controls have since been put in place to identify and stop any player who has self-excluded themself from opening a new account.
The regulator also has the power to allow it to ask the High Court to fine the operator for any future non-compliance.
“The effect of the finding of a breach by the Operator in respect of self-excluded players has been to further tighten controls that detect and prevent such players from opening another account,” the Regulator of the National Lottery, Carol Boate, said.
“The creation of a new potential sanction before the High Court lays down a marker that says there can be no further breach by the Operator of its obligations to players who choose to self-exclude,” she said.
“The Regulator is committed to building on these protective measures so that players and the integrity of the National Lottery continue to be safeguarded in the public interest,” she added.
Details of the breach are contained in the regulator’s annual report published today, which also highlights the introduction of further controls to the National Lottery’s online channel last year through new mandatory age and identity verification checks of all online players.
According to the regulator, these controls led to added friction during the account set-up process, contributing to lost sales.
The report also details how online sales last year did not grow overall relative to retails sales for the first time ever.
This was because players resumed buying tickets in retail outlets in larger numbers than they did during the pandemic, when movement was restricted, and online channels were used instead.
National Lottery sales and returns to good causes also fell during the year, for the first time since the licence was awarded in 2014.
However, returns to good causes still exceeded 2019 pre-pandemic levels, coming in at €259.5m last year, compared to €251.6m three years ago.
There was a 16% decrease in sales of National Lottery Products in 2022 compared to the previous year, with sales falling to €884.1m. In 2019, sales were €884.5m.
The regular said a decrease had been expected because there had been unprecedented Lotto jackpot rollovers which drove sales high than normal in 2021.
Inflation last year is also thought to have impacted sales.