PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has said that the National Lottery will "run out of steam" unless it can sell more Lotto tickets online.
There are severe restrictions on Lotto ticket sales online, which means that only 3pc of tickets are sold this way compared with up to 15pc in other European lotteries.
Mr Howlin said he was going to allow National Lottery tickets to be sold online more easily in the future.
He was discussing the final stages of the bill to sell off the National Lottery licence for 20 years this year at the Oireachtas Finance committee.
Mr Howlin said there would be an independent Lotto regulator, who would also eventually be responsible for the wider regulation of all gambling.
The minister said the next Lotto operator would have to preserve a "robust" Lotto prize fund and provide a decent income stream for the retailers who sold Lotto tickets.
There will also be a guarantee that the current level of lottery funding for good causes will continue.
According to the most recent National Lottery figures, the company's sales dropped by 5pc in 2011 to €761m with around €422m given out in prize money and €232m given to charities and community groups.
However, Mr Howlin declined to put a legal commitment in his Lottery Bill to ring-fence money from the sale to pay for the building of the National Children's Hospital by 2017.
"I will give you the guarantee that it is my intention to have a significant sum of money ring-fenced for that purpose," he said.
But Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming said that good intentions were no good in reality. "The main sweetener in terms of public acceptability in selling the Lotto licence off is that a substantial proportion will go to the hospital," he said.
The Government needs to get at least €250m from the proceeds of the Lotto licence sale for the €610m children's hospital on the St James's Hospital site in Dublin. The rest of the money is due to come from the capital building budget.
Independent TD Richard Boyd Barrett warned that the new Lotto licence would be won by a foreign company with "no allegiance" to the country's citizens instead of the current operator An Post. Mr Howlin said he had no power under EU competition law to award it to An Post or anybody else – and had deliberately stayed "a mile away" from the process.