The National Lottery Act, 1986, stipulates that the lottery licence must be reissued under a competitive-bid process at least once every ten years. The current licence was granted to An Post National Lottery Company on 26 June 2001, to cover the period from 1 January 2002 until 31 December 2008. In 2006, then–Minister for Finance Brian Cowen extended the licence for a further two years, until 31 December 2010. The government will invite bids for a new licence to take effect on 1 January 2011.
The National Lottery's online and instant-ticket services are currently provided by a contractor, GTECH Ireland, a wholly owned subsidiary of GTECH Corp.
Total National Lottery sales during 2007 were €778.5 million, up 14.6 percent on the previous year's sales of €679.1 million. A total of €420.9 million was distributed in cash prizes. The lottery's operating costs were €112.1 million, including €48.4 million paid to retail agents in commission and bonuses.
All cash prizes won in National Lottery games are paid as tax-free lump sums. All prizes in Monday Million, Lotto, and EuroMillions games must be claimed within 90 days of the applicable drawing dates. No minor under the age of eighteen years may purchase tickets for or claim prizes in any National Lottery game. All winners have the choice to remain anonymous.
The inaugural drawing of Lotto, the National Lottery's flagship lottery game, was held on Saturday, 16 April 1988. Lotto has since produced two spinoff games, Lotto 5-4-3-2-1, which began in 1997, and Lotto Plus, which began in 2000. Lotto and Lotto Plus drawings have always been televised live by Ireland's public service broadcaster, Radio Telefís Éireann.
The minimum play in Lotto has always been two lines of six numbers. At a current cost of €1.50 per line, the minimum play in Lotto is €3 per ticket, which makes the game one of the world's most expensive lotteries to enter. By comparison, EuroMillions can be played for €2, the British National Lottery can be played for £1, and many lotteries in the United States, including Powerball, Hot Lotto, and Mega Millions, can be played for $1.
In addition to regular cash prizes, the National Lottery will occasionally announce special prizes for specific Lotto draws. These have included sports cars and Valentine's Day diamonds for match-5+bonus winners, €2,500 holiday vouchers for match-5 winners, and guaranteed prizes of €100 for match-4 winners. The National Lottery has also often added extra money to the Lotto jackpot on bank holidays and at Christmas.
In a 6/36 lottery, the odds of matching all six numbers and winning the jackpot are 1 in 1,947,792, so at Lotto's initial cost of £0.50 per line, all possible combinations could be purchased for £973,896. This theoretically left Lotto vulnerable to a brute force attack—and when the jackpot reached £1.7 million for the May 1992 bank holiday drawing, a 28-member Dublin-based syndicate, organized and headed by Polish-Irish businessman Stefan Klincewicz, attempted to put theory into practice. Klincewicz's team had spent six months preparing by marking combinations on almost a quarter of a million paper playslips. In the days before the drawing they tried to buy up all possible combinations and thus win all possible prizes, including the jackpot.
The National Lottery tried to foil the plan by limiting the number of tickets any single machine could sell, and by turning off the terminals Klincewicz's ticket purchasers were known to be using heavily. Despite its efforts, the syndicate did manage to buy over 1.6 million combinations, spending an estimated £820,000 on tickets. It had the winning numbers on the night—but two other winning tickets were sold, so the syndicate could claim only one-third of the jackpot, or £568,682. Match-5 and match-4 prizes brought the syndicate's total winnings to approximately £1,166,000, representing a profit of around £310,000 before expenses.
Klincewicz later appeared on the television talk show Kenny Live and capitalized on his short-lived notoriety with a self-published lottery-system book entitled Win the Lotto.
To prevent a scheme such as Klincewicz's from happening again, the National Lottery changed Lotto to a 6/39 game later in 1992, raising the jackpot odds to 1 in 3,262,623. The first Lotto 6/39 drawing was held on 22 August 1992. To compensate for the longer jackpot odds, the National Lottery doubled the starting jackpot to €500,000 and added a "bonus number" to the drawings. Whereas players previously needed either a match-6, match-5, or match-4 to win, prizes were now also awarded for match-5+bonus, match-4+bonus, and match-3+bonus.
For draws beginning on 26 September 1998, the National Lottery increased the cost of a line of Lotto from £0.50 to £0.75. At this time it also doubled the game's starting jackpot to £1 million and increased most of the game's smaller prizes by 50 percent.
With the introduction of the euro currency on 1 January 2002, the cost of a line of Lotto became €0.95, and the starting jackpot became €1.269 million (the euro equivalent of £1 million). For draws beginning 1 September 2002, the price of Lotto was rounded to €1 per line, and the starting jackpot was raised proportionally to €1.35 million.
In November 2006, the National Lottery changed Lotto to a 6/45 game. It also made the starting jackpot a guaranteed €2 million, increased the match-5+bonus prize to €25,000 (up from €12,000), introduced a €5 match-3 prize, and increased the price of a line of Lotto from €1 to €1.50, keeping the minimum play at two lines. The company said that the structural changes were designed to produce about twenty Lotto jackpots of €5 million and over each year, and at least one jackpot over €10 million. The first 6/45 draw was held on 4 November 2006. The impact of the changes was felt almost immediately when a jackpot of €7.5 million, the highest for many years, was produced less than two months after their introduction.
Although the Consumers Association of Ireland criticized the National Lottery for these changes, calling the 50 percent Lotto price increase "extraordinary," the restructuring of the game has been hugely successful. In 2007, sales of the core Lotto game rose 40.2 percent to €357.6 million, their largest ever single-year increase.
The current odds of winning the Lotto jackpot are 1 in 8,145,060. The odds of getting a match-5+bonus are 1 in 1,357,510; the odds of a match-5 are 1 in 35,724; the odds of a match 4+bonus are 1 in 14,290; the odds of a match-4 are 1 in 772; the odds of a match-3+bonus are 1 in 579; and the odds of a match-3 are 1 in 48.
The largest unclaimed Lotto jackpot is £2,713,334 (€3,445,934). The one winning ticket for the 30 July 2001 drawing was sold in Coolock, Dublin, but its holder failed to come forward before the ticket expired at the close of business on 26 September 2001.
In 2002, the National Lottery added a second Lotto Plus drawing, renamed the drawings Lotto Plus 1 and Lotto Plus 2, and raised the cost of Lotto Plus to €0.50 per line. The jackpots were fixed at €300,000 and €200,000 respectively. The first drawings for Lotto Plus 1 and Lotto Plus 2 took place on 1 September 2002.
In November 2006, when Lotto adopted a 6/45 matrix, the National Lottery raised the Lotto Plus 1 and Lotto Plus 2 jackpots to €350,000 and €250,000 respectively. The cost of Lotto Plus remained at €0.50 per line.
As with the main Lotto game, Lotto Plus players can win smaller cash prizes for match-5+bonus, match-5, match-4+bonus, match-4, and match-3+bonus. For a match-3 in Lotto Plus 1, the winner receives a €3 scratchcard. A match-3 in Lotto Plus 2 wins a €1 scratchcard. The odds of winning these respective prizes are the same as for the main Lotto game.
Sales of Lotto Plus rose by 4.7 percent in 2007, to €101.1 million.
The National Lottery joined the transnational EuroMillions lottery on 8 October 2004. Since then, two EuroMillions jackpots have been won in Ireland. On 31 July 2005, Dolores McNamara, a part-time cleaning lady from Limerick, won a record-breaking jackpot of €115,436,126 on a €2 quick-pick ticket purchased in a small convenience store half a mile from her home. McNamara remains the largest individual winner in European lottery history. On 4 July 2008, a couple who chose to remain anonymous won a jackpot of €15 million on a €9 quick-pick ticket purchased at a shop in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary.
On 17 November 2006, two Irish winners each received a 5 percent share of an unwon €183 million jackpot when it was divided under the draw's 12-week rollover rule among all twenty tickets bearing five numbers and one lucky star. The winners received €9.6 million each, a sum which included the standard EuroMillions match-5+1 prize. One winning ticket was purchased in Limerick and the other in Cork.
Irish sales of the core EuroMillions game fell from €145.3 million in 2006 to €118.7 million in 2007.
Sales of EuroMillions Plus were €16.4 million in 2007, reflecting figures from the game's introduction in June until the year's end.
Although the Monday Million jackpot is not split among multiple winners, as is the case with Lotto and EuroMillions, the National Lottery has placed a fixed prize limit of €5 million on each Monday Million draw. In the event that the total value of all prizes for any one draw exceeds €5 million, the National Lottery will adjust the fixed prize values according to the formula A x 5,000,000/B, where A is the individual normal prize amount and B is the total prize cost for all categories, rounded to the nearest €1. (For example, if the total value of all prizes were to be €6,500,000, a top-prize winner would receive €1,000,000 x 5,000,000/6,500,000 = €769,231.)
Five prizes of €100,000 were also awarded, with two winning tickets sold in Dublin, one in Cork, one in Limerick, and one in Enniscorthy. Other winners won 45 prizes of €10,000, 80 prizes of €5,000, 100 prizes of €1,000, and 300 prizes of €500. The full list of winning ticket numbers was published on the National Lottery's website.
During the television broadcast from Tralee, host Derek Mooney informed the audience that the winning tickets had actually been drawn earlier that day at the National Lottery headquarters in Dublin. This seeming lack of transparency caused controversy among the public, especially given the coincidence that one of the winning €1 million tickets had been sold in Tralee, where the results were announced. Players complained to the National Lottery about the lack of a live drawing, and national radio stations hosted animated discussions of the issue.
Despite receiving criticism over its handling of the inaugural Millionaire Raffle, the National Lottery has said it will consider holding a similar drawing in future.
First broadcast in 1990, the National Lottery's flagship game show Winning Streak screens weekly between September and early June. A summer companion programme Fame & Fortune was launched in 1996 and ran through the months of June, July, and August until it was replaced in 2007 by The Trump Card. That programme received negative reviews and disappointing ratings, and was cancelled after its first season. A new summer programme, The Big Money Game, aired for the first time on 14 June 2008.
National Lottery game shows paid out over €14 million in prizes during 2007.