What is the definition of lottery? Wikipedia tells that lottery is a form of gambling that involves the drawing of numbers at random for a prize. Lotteries are outlawed by some governments, while others endorse it to the extent of organizing a national or state lottery. Is there anything which makes lottery totally different compared to other gambling and gambling operators. Lotteries think that yes of course but I’m not sure about that at all.
When I joined in Veikkaus, the Finnish national lottery operator, over 25 years ago the lottery and gambling world was quite different than it is now. Gambling was among those words which we weren’t allowed to use when we were talking about our own business. Gambling was something bad and lottery was good. Some lotteries had pool-based sports games like Football Pools and the word we used for whole business was gaming. Nowadays gaming means rather casual and social games not lottery or other gambling verticals. Lotteries weren’t willing to be part of gambling business and believed that their reputation and operation were much better than for example casino companies had. I know that some lotteries are still thinking that way.
Many lotteries are established by the states and have been owned by those states too. In practice all of them have had monopoly situation in lottery business in their own jurisdictions. All lotteries have had lotto games and most of them have also sold scratch cards and some have had those pool-based sports games. Lotteries have had strong position in retail business and important role in the societies thanks to profit/money they have given to the state and/or to their direct beneficiaries.
The gambling world began to change when internet appeared in 1990’s. At the same time some forerunner lotteries decided to introduce fixed odds sports betting. It was huge change when we jumped from traditional retail lottery business to digital sports betting business in mid-1990’s. Internet, and later mobile, has changed our business totally but it has influenced on the legal situation too. There is still monopoly in basic lottery business in all countries but in practice that is not the case anymore. There are nowadays secondary lottery products and sports betting about lottery results which customers could play instead of the original lotteries.
European Union has also caused lots of changes here in Finland and probably in many other EU-member countries too. Monopolies are against the basic principle of EU where we believe on free movement of products and services. The European Court of Justice has accepted the monopoly in lottery business if it is necessary to prevent gambling related problems. Those problems could be gambling problems or crime which is linked to gambling business. I would like to hear how much gambling problems are coming from lottery products and how much crime is linked to those products… There is no monopoly in casino business where gambling problems and criminal actions are much more common than they are in lottery products.
There are still many lotteries where state is the owner of the company, but there are more and more lotteries which are public companies with private owners and in some cases state could be among those owners. If I analyze the World Lottery Association (WLA) and its’ members I would say that it is not homogenous group at all. If I think about how lotteries are trying to target their business goals, I could notice extremely big difference between the most active and the most passive ones. There are lotteries which are acting like real business companies and there are also lotteries which are like state offices – which they actually are. Then there are lots of lotteries between those two groups.
Some lotteries have divided their businesses to two or even more separate companies where the other company is operating in the monopoly environment and the other one is in serious competition (license market). Danske Spil and Svenska Spel are good examples of that kind of structure. There are also companies like IGT, SISAL, FDJ, SAZKA etc. among WLA members and they are like normal publicly listed business companies.
Few other important features where attitude and action among lotteries vary a lot are responsible gaming and profit of the company. Lotteries have taken responsible gaming issues seriously and they still are, but are they really doing things better than the private gambling operators? Some lotteries are but not all of them. There are also some private gambling operators who are doing excellent work in that responsible gaming area. The profit from lotteries is going to the state or/and to good causes. That’s still the case in monopoly part of the business, but in licensed based business that’s not the case.
I don’t believe that it will be possible to keep monopoly and act like normal business company although lots of lotteries are moving towards that kind of action. I think that there are two totally different options available. The first one is to act like monopoly company should do – concentrate mainly on prevention of gambling problems and not be too active with marketing, sale, and development. Then it’s up to the state how well it could protect that monopoly from the competition. The roles of state and lottery company should be separate and clear enough. There are tools for that protection like internet and payment blockings. The other option is to concentrate on real business and offer as good and wide gambling products to customers as possible and trust on own strengths. Thanks to their backgrounds and history, lotteries have some competitive edges compared to private companies and they should try to utilize them and make good business. In that world monopoly won’t be possible, but it doesn’t matter if lotteries would develop their businesses.
In many countries lotteries can’t make that kind of decision by themselves. The final decision maker is the state, but lotteries could influence on that decision. I think that it would be possible to further develop business also in monopoly situation but there the tools are totally different compared to real business world. In both worlds keywords are customer satisfaction, good products and services and digitalization. If lotteries are willing to move towards real competition, they should digitalize their business, introduce customer-oriented systems, and add more gambling verticals to their portfolio. In the monopoly world responsible gaming is the most important issue and it should be clear that it has important role also in business world but not so big than in monopoly.