Contribution to the National Lottery Bill 2012

February 6th, 2013 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate this afternoon because the national lottery is something all Irish people will agree has been very good to Ireland since its introduction a number of years ago. The games have remained popular over the years and have brought a substantial amount of income to a number of projects nationwide. The wealth that has been created has financed many worthwhile projects. In the 25 years since the establishment of the national lottery in 1986, approximately €12 billion has been generated in sales and €4 billion has been donated to good causes. The funding is spent on many worthwhile projects, such as services for people with disabilities, which is extremely important, services for the elderly, sport in particular, music and the overall advancement of Irish culture. Many communities in my own constituency of Clare have benefited from lottery funding. For instance, the Glór Theatre, Ennis, is a perfect example of the contribution the national lottery has made in support of the arts. This premier venue has seen the performance of many musicals and other art forms, but without the funding it would have been difficult to open the doors of this fantastic facility which is located in the centre of Ennis.

Involvement in sporting and leisure activities also is extremely important, particularly for people’s physical and mental health. In this context, funding through the sports capital programme has transformed the facilities that various sporting organisations in County Clare have provided over the years. On the reintroduction of the scheme last year by the current Government after a lapse of four years, it elicited huge interest from many clubs and I believe that for every euro available, there was a demand for €7.50. Ultimately, 23 projects out of 70 were funded to the tune of nearly €740,000. It was great to see so many clubs being successful, among them being my own local GAA club of Ballynacally.

In addition, lottery funding is essential for many organisations that provide health related services in our communities. For instance, the Brothers of Charity services operating in Ennis were allocated €100,000 for the remodelling and renovation of existing workshops on the Kilrush Road. Another recipient was The Clare Crusaders Children’s Charity, which is a voluntary organisation that provides a great service in Barefield, County Clare, for approximately 190 children with special needs. Similarly, assistance was provided for a minibus for the Friends of Ennistymon Hospital, while Carrigoran House, Newmarket, received funding towards the development of a satellite catering service for its new day care service, which was opened recently. Consequently, this funding is extremely important and has benefited various other projects, including the AstroTurf pitch for the community of Tulla, child care facilities and environmental projects.

This is the reason I welcome the stipulation in the legislation that a fixed percentage of the annual lottery turnover must continue to go to some good causes. The percentage has been set at 30.5%, which is the same level of funds disbursed to good causes in 2011. I believe this to be significant as it demonstrates the Government is committed to ensuring that the voluntary and community sectors, such as those I already have mentioned, will continue to receive support under the new national lottery system. It also is important to point out that by selling this licence, the State is not giving up all the future funding in exchange for a one-time upfront payment. The opposite is the case because it will ensure the status quo and the level of support for good causes is maintained. The lottery is extremely important and one half of the adult population claims to have played it regularly at one point. Many people are not aware of how vital and beneficial it is for the aforementioned organisations that these proceeds go into such centres and organisations in particular, as well as to other spheres of culture in Ireland.

The main benefits to be derived from undertaking an open sale competition to appoint a new operator are twofold. First, by having an open sale competition for a new operator, one ensures the State will get the best possible deal. In this context, it appears that a number of companies, both in Ireland and overseas, are interested in acquiring the national lottery licence. This is what the State needs, namely, the best possible deal to secure the money for projects. The obligation on the successful operator to make an upfront payment will ensure the funding required for the development of the national children’s hospital will be secured. The development of the national children’s hospital is an extremely important project not just for Dublin, but for the entire country. Everyone present in this Chamber recognises the need for such a hospital and to have a modern facility. All such facilities are extremely expensive and the sale of the licence will help to ease the burden on taxpayers when it comes to funding this project, which is one of the largest projects in the current capital plan. Various reports put the projected revenue to be gained from the sale of a licence to be in the region of €500 million, which is a significant amount of money and which certainly would play an important role in financing the national children’s hospital.

As I stated earlier, playing the lottery’s games has proved to be very popular. New games are continually being introduced and they have proved to be very popular. However, one aspect of this Bill about which I have concerns for a number of reasons is that unlike the National Lottery Act 1986, it places no restrictions on online playing. At present, the purchasing of cards online amounts to approximately 3% of volume compared with approximately 15% in other European countries. Everyone is aware of the addictions that can develop from online purchasing. This much is evident in respect of online betting, where young people use their apps and mobile telephones to bet. Were online purchases to increase, the same could happen. In addition, it is important for rural Ireland in particular to have the tickets for sale in shops because if one increases the online purchasing of lottery tickets, it certainly will be at the expense of the local shop and all Members are aware of the pressure on such shops and post offices at present. If someone goes in to buy a lottery ticket, they also will buy something in the shop itself. Consequently, I am somewhat concerned about this and would like to see more restrictions on such sales. I certainly do not seek to have greater numbers of people getting hooked on the online purchasing of such tickets in the way people have become hooked on online betting. It has been proved there is room for the market to grow. It has been stated that half the adult population has played a lottery game at some point.
It is important to try to grow this market in a manner that does not place significant burdens on people. As previous speakers have noted, one can see the glamour of all the advertisements to the effect that one can win a fortune and be a millionaire for the rest of one’s life. However, very few people achieve such a level of winnings. Nevertheless, online purchasing is convenient for people and I worry about that.

Another important element of this legislation is that any new operator will be answerable to a Government regulator. This will allow the Government to continue to have some control over the lottery and to have the ability to take back full control should it perceive any negligent action on the operator’s part. Such a safety net is important because it would allow for the continued integrity of the lottery and would ensure the lottery will continue to be run in a beneficial manner for all the people of Ireland. Consequently, the proposed regulator will have a very important role to play. The lottery has become a great source of entertainment and funding for the people of Ireland. This Bill is a necessary step in ensuring we continue to build on its success by capitalising on the opportunities in the growth area in lottery ticketing and ensuring local communities and voluntary sectors continue to receive funding as they have in the past under the watchful eye of the regulator. Moreover, the taxpayer will continue to get good value for money and at the same time, funding will be secured for a number of important projects, particularly the national children’s hospital, concerning the site of which there was so much controversy over the years. I welcome the legislation and commend the Minister on bringing it before the House.