Serious concern has been expressed at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over the National Lottery's use of almost €120m in unclaimed prizes on advertising.

Committee members questioned the role of the regulator of the National Lottery, suggesting that Carol Boate was acting as a "bystander".

The committee heard €124m in prizes was left unclaimed between 2015 and 2021.

The lottery spent €122m of it, almost entirely on advertising. Only 2%, around €2m, went back to players by topping-up prizes

Several committee members said that this clearly contradicts the terms of the National Lottery's licence.

The licence stipulates that the use of expired, unclaimed prizes "shall include the funding of special draws and additional or top-up prizes", Labour TD Alan Kelly noted.

Reading from the document on his phone, he said that it then adds that this "may include incremental marketing and advertising".

"The balance that was suggested by the licence" was "directly inverted" by the National Lottery, Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill noted, adding that this "is a big difficulty for us".

"You are the gatekeeper", she told Ms Boate, adding that she should "have sought external legal advice" on the questionable use of the reclaimed prize money.

Ms Boate said that the licence "doesn't afford a particular proportion" on how the money is spent.

She also revealed that the National Lottery breached the terms of its licence in 2021 by contacting people who had "self-excluded".

This generally involves a problem gambler struggling to get their addiction under control asking the betting operator to block their access for a specified period.

The committee heard that 48 problem gamblers who had self-excluded had received marketing information for a 36-hour period.

No additional action was taken beyond noting the breach, Ms Boate acknowledged.

"I find that difficult", Ms Carroll MacNeill replied. "That's not enough."

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (File pic)

She joined colleagues in taking aim at a controversial marketing campaign, which had claimed that 90% of the National Lottery's profits go back into "the community".

Ms Boate rejected that it was misleading as the National Lottery had "very clearly" and "explicitly" defined its use of the word community to include retailers.

"I'd have a different view [as would] the vast majority of people," said Committee Chair and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley.

Mr Stanley and Ms Carroll MacNeill also revealed that they had been contacted in advance of today's session by a telemarketing firm asking about their views on the lottery.

Committee Chair and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley

"A regulator cannot be a bystander when major issues are arising," Mr Stanley said.

He pointed to the record streak of repeated roll-overs, which began a year ago, and which he said put "the credibility of the national lottery ... at stake".

The prize had rolled over at least 60 times, hitting the cap €19m, although Mr Stanley admitted that he had "lost count at 51".

Surely a change to the terms of the licence was needed, he suggested, and added: "No-one in your office raised the matter - raised it with the operator".

When it comes to setting prizes, "the act makes that entirely in their gift", Ms Boate replied.

She added that "there are regular and sufficient communications" with the operator and the Government.