Dáil Éireann - Volume 432 - 10 June, 1993
Adjournment Debate. - National Lottery Prize Fund.
Miss Quill Miss Quill
Miss Quill: I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter and the Minister for the Environment for coming into the House to reply. He has had a busy day in the House. I appreciate the fact that he has made himself available again to reply.
This weekend the country will witness a binge of national lottery mania as the prize fund is set to exceed a record £3.5 million. That being so, the time has come for us in this House — we were the ones who set up the national lottery in the first instance — to stop and take stock and question the logic and fairness of these occasional multi-million pound pay-outs by the national lottery. The time has come to amend the 1986 Act under which the national lottery was set up in order to confine the maximum prize pay-out in any one national lottery draw to £1 million and to disperse any prize funds which accumulate beyond that amount to deserving welfare, sporting and cultural organisations.
I wish to reassure the House that I am no kill-joy when it comes to having a flutter on the national lottery but the  matter is now out of proportion and the time has come to restore some balance. We ought to ask outselves if it is reasonable that a State lottery should create occasional multi-millionaires. I understand that there are now 16 lotto millionaires at a time when so many worthy welfare, health and sporting organisations are crying out for resources. Many of these organisations would be greatly helped if they were to receive a small amounts. This would make a big difference to a number of the organisations I have in mind. I am talking here about women's aid group, women's refuges and rape crisis centres which are scattered throughout the country and whose demands are minor in money terms but whose needs are great in terms of the good they do in the community.
Looking ahead to Saturday night any person or group of persons would consider themselves lucky if they were to win £1 million. A win of £1 million is about as much as any ordinary person could handle. I have been reassured by a statement made by one of our more recent Lotto multi-millionaires, Mr. Tom Jones of Ballymun, who said in an RTE radio interview yesterday that if he had won about one third of a million pounds he would have been quite happy, that this would have been enough to satisfy all his needs and that anything above and beyond that figure is of no relevance or benefit to him. That man's comments should not be ignored. It should be remembered that he won £1.9 million.
I was very impressed by the comments made by John O'Shea of Goal on “Morning Ireland” today. He made a harrowing appeal on behalf of the starving millions in the Third World. His appeal should not fall on deaf ears. I believe the Government would have the support of everyone if it listened to John O'Shea's appeal and made a provision for this organisation in the disbursement of lottery funds. Irish people have contributed magnificently on a voluntary basis to overseas aid agencies.
 This is not to ignore the fact that there are groups in Ireland whose need is almost as great as the needs of organisations such as Goal. If surplus lottery funds were transferred from the prize fund to the fund which is disbursed many groups would benefit greatly. I am referring to groups such as the Rape Crisis Centre, sporting organisations which believed they would get money from local authorities but have not got any and other needs groups. I ask the Minister to consider setting a ceiling on the prize fund and to allocate the surplus money to these deserving groups.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith) Michael Smith
Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): I thank Deputy Quill for raising this matter. The points made by her are often expressed by other people throughout the country. Indeed I have expressed the same opinions on occasion. When the Deputy has heard my reply she will find that the position is quite different from the one outlined.
As the lottery jackpot increases, so too does the number of people who play the game. By setting a ceiling on the jackpot prizes, the amount of money available for needy groups is reduced. When the Lotto jackpot is £500,000 an average of 600,000 players participate in the game and when the jackpot is heading for more than £3.5 million approximately 1.5 million adults participate in the game. Therefore the amount of money available to the Government to disburse among needy groups is considerably enhanced when there is a larger jackpot. It should be pointed out that 83 per cent of jackpot prizes have been for less than £500,000. In fact, when one takes into consideration that many of the winning tickets are owned by groups who share ownership of the tickets then the percentage goes up even further.
To put a cap on the size of Lotto jackpots would run the risk of undermining public interest in participation and could well jeopardise the long-term success of the game. In the circumstances, the Minister for Finance does not propose to issue a direction to An Post National Lottery  Company to change the prize structure of the lottery.
The issue of the level of Ireland's official development assistance is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. However, I might mention that the Government has contributed some £53.2 million in 1993 to overseas development assistance, an increase of almost 25 per cent on the 1992 allocation. The Government is committed to increasing the level of our ODA progressively in accordance with the Programme for a Partnership Government.
Since its inception in 1987 to the end of 1992, the national lottery enabled the Government to spend some £346 million on a wide variety of expenditure programmes in areas like youth, sport, arts, the Irish language and health and welfare. This year a further £89 million is being allocated to these areas. Inevitably the demands for assistance exceed the resources available, particularly from voluntary groups in the areas mentioned by the Deputy. However, I hope I have demonstrated that capping lottery jackpots would actually worsen the position of groups dependent of lottery funding. This runs counter to the view expressed by many people. Larger jackpots draw in more funds which are disbursed to needy groups, 83 per cent of jackpot prizes have been for less than £500,000 and many tickets are bought by groups. The number of people who win jackpots on their own account for a tiny minority of prizewinners.
Dáil Éireann 432 Adjournment Debate. National Lottery Prize Fund.