Top prizes missing from Ireland Lottery games blamed on ‘human error’

Some jackpots were literally impossible to win

By Kate Northrop

The Regulator of Ireland’s National Lottery released a report today that confirmed four jackpot prizes worth a combined €180,000 (US$211,544) in three separate scratch-off games went missing, making them impossible to win.

In November 2019, the National Lottery’s regulator was notified that the number of jackpots offered in three separate scratch-off games was inaccurate compared to the number of jackpots actually available to players. Out of the 178 scratch-off games offered since 2014, three of them had missing jackpots. The issue was brought to light after the National Lottery performed an internal audit of all lottery products.

In December 2019, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland) Simon Coveney announced that the government would be opening an independent investigation into the matter, stating that it is “not acceptable to dismiss this as a human error” and that it was necessary to conduct an investigation in order “to ensure the public have confidence in the lottery that people play on a daily basis.”

“I play the lottery and I do so in the knowledge that many of the proceeds go to charitable causes and community projects, but also in the knowledge that the lottery is a form of gambling that requires proper regulation,” Coveney said. “The fact that four jackpot prizes across three games operated by Premier Lotteries were missing due to ‘human error’ or some improbable misfortune is hard to believe.”

According to Coveney, a staggering €855 million (US$1.005 billion) generated by the Lottery goes to charitable causes and is a sum that requires proper management and protection.

“In one of these games, the number of prizes in the game was designed to be no less than 976,500. The probability that, out of all the prizes, the jackpot prize would be missing is nearly one in a million,” he added.”

The games affected were “Congratulations 186” and “Congratulations 223,” both from 2019, and “Diamond Bingo Doubler” than ran in 2015. In one of the “Congratulations” games, there were only two winnable top prizes of €50,000 (US$58,795) instead of four, while the other only had one winnable €50,000 top prize instead of two. The Diamond Bingo Doubler scratch-off advertised four €30,000 (US$35,277) jackpots, but only three were available to win.

After an immediate review of their entire portfolio, the National Lottery found that only 0.01% of all prizes were impacted over the last five years, while other games including the traditional Lotto draw and EuroMillions were unaffected.

The National Lottery apologized for the mistake and removed the games in question. Paul Bradley, a spokesperson for the National Lottery, said that it was honest mistake that affected players’ ability to win a prize they didn’t even know was impossible to win.

“We’re very sorry that the mistake has taken place,” Bradley said after the problem was discovered. “It was human error and we’ve changed our processes and our controls, to improve them, so it doesn’t happen again. We are desperately sorry, and we want to ensure that people are treated fairly. It’s very important to us that they are reassured and our players are reassured.”

The games are operated by Premier Lotteries Ireland DAC (PLI), which was the entity ultimately responsible for the blunders. Carol Boate, the regulator responsible for procuring and regulating the Irish National Lottery, said that the errors were “due to human error and inadequate controls on the part of [PLI].”

However, the regulator’s report also found that the operator, PLI, “acted transparently and in good faith, and that information was not withheld from the Regulator, and that PLI staff had (mistakenly) believed the games were correctly run.”

Regardless of PLI’s good intentions, the regulator determined that it was still necessary to rectify the situation by putting more effective controls in place that would hopefully prevent he problem from ever happening again. PLI also created a new game to return the value of missing prizes to players.

A New Year’s Special Draw took place on Jan. 6, 2020, in which €180,000 of PLI’s income was returned to players in the form of 180 guaranteed prizes of €1,000 (US$1,175) each, all of which have been claimed. In addition, the operator made a €50,000 (US$ 58,795) donation to Jigsaw, a youth mental health charity, to make certain that they forego any contribution from sales of the affected scratch-offs.

The regulator’s report that was released today primarily confirmed that PLI breached three provisions of the National Lottery Act 2013 and license, which are failure to hold three lottery games in accordance with the rules in force, failure to ensure that statements regarding games were true, and failure to have an adequate system of internal control to provide assurance of compliance with the relevant provisions of the Act and license.

The report also stated that player participation in National Lottery games was not adversely impacted and that sales of tickets have not diminished following the issue. In fact, 2020 scratch-off sales are marginally ahead of sales compared to the same time periods last year. Scratch-off games currently in circulation are not affected at all.

“There is no indication of a significant loss of trust by players in the propriety of the National Lottery, or of any subsequent fall in returns to Good Causes, and its integrity and image has not been materially compromised,” the report read.

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