The amount of money paid out to charities and community groups by the National Lottery hit a five-year low of €232m last year.

National Lottery sales fell by nearly 1.5% to just over €760m in what the company called a "challenging retail environment". Scratchcard sales rose, as did revenues from online gaming, but Lotto sales were down by €40m to €282m.

The falling sales come as the Government is preparing the terms of a 20-year licence to run the lottery business, which will be put out to public tender later this year.

National Lottery Chief Executive Dermot Griffin said new game initiatives will provide added value to whoever wins the licence to operate the lottery for the next 20 years.

The Government has signalled its intention to sell the licence, with estimates of between €400m and €600m.

On RTÉ's News at One, Mr Griffin said there was potential to grow online, but that was limited by the current laws governing the lottery in Ireland.

He said the Lottery Act was published in 1986 at a time when the internet was not envisaged.

He said whether the Government will raise €600m from the sale will depend on the structure of the licence.

"Certainly a 20-year licence gives the opportunity for extra value. There are a lot of games initiatives that we can generate over the years, which will generate extra value.

“There's a world game concept on the horizon. The internet gives potential for extra revenue and extra value"

"Looking at other markets, the Scandinavians lead the way in internet sales. Some of those countries have nearly 20% of their sales coming through the internet, and certainly there is the potential to grow it.

“We work very closely with the Department of Public Expenditure, which is our regulator, to ensure our controls work very satisfactorily in that particular space."