One size doesn’t fit all

I have written this text for, and Conor Porter has partly edited it.

I’m sure you know the t-shirts sold in tourist stores, the size of which is stated as “one size fits all”? I’ve always wondered how stupid people are when they buy shirts that don’t look good on anyone. Similar examples of selling the same product can be seen in all industries. The selling company focuses on lowering the cost level and seeks large economies of scale by keeping production in one or a few products. However, such a business strategy can only produce bulk products that are not of great importance to customers.

I have written several times in my previous columns about how important it is to understand customer needs. With the data collected from customers, companies can offer even better products and services which, in turn, increase business profits. When successful, customized products are an actual win-win situation where the company receives more revenue, but at the same time, customer satisfaction increases.

Lotteries, especially in the field of lottery games, sell their products to such a large number of customers that, at least in theory, one product fits all thinking might even work. Such a product suitable for everyone should be developed with the average customer in mind. If the customer base is large enough, then the average product may be of interest to a sufficiently large customer group. A lotto game focusing on the jackpot could be such a product, for example. The smaller and more heterogeneous the customer base, the more difficult it is to develop a single product that suits everyone.

However, the actual topic of this column is not the products and services that lotteries offer to their customers. Instead, I would like to highlight the challenges of action between gaming technology suppliers and gambling operators. Based on my previous experience with lotteries and now through additional information obtained through consulting, I argue that some kind of “interpreters” would be needed between operators and technology companies to understand each other better. It may be that there should be similar “interpreters” within gambling companies between business and technology people.

I admit that I see the situation perhaps too much through the eyes of the lottery. In any case, it seems that a large percentage of gaming technology companies are looking to sell the same product and the same technology solutions to all gambling operators. Like in the B2C business, customers are different in the B2B business; clients are different and have specific businesses. The understanding seems to be enough for casino companies, betting companies, and lotteries to belong to different series. Instead, it seems surprisingly difficult to understand that lotteries are a completely heterogeneous group of companies. Sure, some lotteries resemble each other more than others, but a business-oriented, stock-listed lottery needs something other than a lottery like a state office.

I’ve talked a lot about the need for lotteries to develop their digital business and, on the other hand, the need to add new product verticals. As such, an excellent digital platform may be too complicated for a company starting a digital gambling business, while the same solution may be far too simple for a lottery that has been running digital operations for years. Technology companies should understand the levels at which different gambling operators are in different areas. Based on this understanding, it could be easier to tailor individual solutions to companies. The situation is thus quite similar to B2C, where the aim is to offer players personalized products and services. In reality, those products are not made individually for each customer, but the goal is to create a feeling for the customer that this is just for me.

Take, for example, the product area of betting. A technology supplier seeking to sell its betting solution to lotteries must understand at least the legal situation in that target country, the current state and strategic importance of sports games in the entire operation of the lottery, and the technology architecture of the gambling company. The legislation affects many issues and may impose specific requirements that make basic solutions impossible in that country. The needs of sports games are different for start-up companies than for a company operating in this product area for a long time. It is also possible that some lotteries just want to offer sports games to serve their customers, while other lotteries strive to make the maximum profit out of sports games as well.

For a lottery that wants to add betting to its product portfolio but still intends to focus on running lottery games, the full-service solution is perfect. The technology must meet the requirements of the country’s legislation, but it does not have to have any specific business specialties. The reliability of technology is a crucial element. In addition to the basic technology, there is also a need for ready-made odds, usually obtained from large companies focused on them through a revenue share agreement. Selling such a total ready-made package to large lottery companies running sports games, on the other hand, is entirely pointless. Many lotteries operate in sports games in the license-based market, where they compete openly against other operators. In a situation like this, you can only succeed by doing things differently, better than your competitors. That requires tailored services and also, at least in some sports, different odds from other companies.

Understanding IT architecture is an exciting area. Traditionally, lotteries have purchased their technology solutions from a single supplier. Lottery technology solutions have been based on a model where the central gaming system has been at the heart of it all. However, the situation has changed, at least for more advanced lotteries. The companies source the best solutions for different areas from different technology suppliers. Therefore, system integrability is of great importance to such companies. Instead, traditionally operating lotteries still want to buy all the technology from one supplier. It goes without saying that it is not worth trying to sell the same solutions to such lotteries.

As more and more lottery companies have switched to a multi-vendor model, technology companies have also changed their operating methods. However, I believe that suppliers still have a lot of opportunities to improve their service if they better understand the situation and needs of their customers. As I said above, the result of such action is, at best, a win-win situation where the technology company gets more sales, and the lottery is even more satisfied. In fact, there is still a third win in this model, as lottery players are also likely to be happier than they are today with better products.

Lotteries’ requirements are growing – operating models must change

I have originally written this text for, and Conor Porter has partly modified the text.

A company’s mission is to make a profit for its owners. That is also the case for lotteries, although they do not fully follow the way standard business companies operate. Responsible gaming and the restrictions that arise from gaming play a significant impact. Ultimately, lotteries also strive to achieve the biggest possible income flow for their owners and beneficiaries within their operation framework.

Companies that strive for results are constantly thinking about the best ways to run their operations. The goal is to keep up with developments or even be at the forefront. It is also a requirement to do the activity as efficiently as possible. Successful companies must also be better than their competitors in the same market in at least some areas.

Back in the early 2000s, lotteries did not think as described above. The companies have mainly been state-owned or at least have a monopoly position granted by them. That has reduced the pressure of business success and, in many cases, lotteries could be described as government offices rather than successful businesses. From an economic point of view, it is clear that a monopoly company always operates less efficiently than a company involved in the competition.

Most lotteries have not sought and still do not strive to be at the forefront of development. Companies have even had difficulty keeping up reasonably with the changing world around them. However, that has not hampered operations as long as the monopoly position has remained in practice and not just on paper. Attention has been paid to the efficiency of operations, but the starting point has been, above all, saving and not optimizing operations. Nor has the aim been to be the best operator in the market, even in some areas, as quite a few lotteries have been denied competing against anyone.

Of course, the situation is not the same everywhere. As I have already stated in my previous columns, the lotteries are a very heterogeneous group. There are still many state-owned companies among lotteries that are even part of the administration and operate like government offices. On the other hand, there are very business-oriented companies in the lottery world, some of which are owned by private equity investors or are even listed companies. The operating models of the state office and the listed company are not the same.

I do not mean that all lotteries should act as standard business companies do. Instead, I mean, each lotteries’ operating models can’t be the same because their goals are so different. Each company must find the most suitable operating methods for its operating environment and goals. The situation is such that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

One exciting area is outsourcing. How much and what companies should do themselves and what aspects they should outsource? It is not just a question of cost efficiency, although companies too often only think about that. By outsourcing operations, a company can achieve cost savings. Yet, it is also essential to focus on what can best improve the way you do business. Outsourcing often helps simplify management.

One of the most commonly outsourced things in the gambling world is technology. Lotteries have traditionally acquired all gambling-related technology from a single supplier. Operating models have differed quite a lot between European and US lotteries, for example. European companies have mostly bought the technology, while US lotteries have outsourced the entire gaming system to technology vendors as well. IGT, Scientific Games, and Intralot have dominated this area for a long time.

However, especially for more advanced lotteries, the situation has changed significantly. The development of digitalization and the expansion of the ​​operation of lotteries have mainly contributed to this. In addition to traditional scratch cards and lottery games in the retail channel, new product areas have emerged, such as sports betting, which is increasingly played on digital channels. That has changed not only the competitive situation but also the technical requirements.

While lotteries continue to operate draw-based games and scratch cards on a monopoly basis, and some companies also have a monopoly in other gaming areas, the shift to digital channels has further tightened competition. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other gambling companies available to consumers on the internet and mobile world. Customers have also learned to demand better products and services from lotteries.

Traditional technology suppliers have excellently mastered the actual lottery gaming systems and related point-of-sale terminals. The structure of lottery games has been very similar for decades, which is why game development has been handled in collaboration with technology suppliers. However, the digital sales channel requirements and new product areas are different compared to traditional models. That has led to more technology companies entering the market, focusing on smaller specialty areas. Some companies have focused only on systems that operate on digital channels, others only on sports game solutions, and others only on game/content production.

The level of demand for many lotteries has increased with development. Advanced lotteries, in particular, want to take advantage of the best solutions in different areas, which is why buying everything from one technology supplier is no longer a viable model. Today, gambling systems in different product areas and sales channels may all come from different providers. That has caused a significant change in the IT-architecture. Everything no longer revolves around the lottery solution. Today, more and more companies have switched to a model where PAM is at the center of everything because customer data is the same for all game verticals and distribution channels.

So does outsourcing of technology make sense anymore? That is no longer possible for advanced and versatile gambling operators, so the issue is not valid for all lotteries. But the answer is not that simple. In the lottery sector, which still operates under strict state control and offers only traditional lottery products, it may make sense to continue all IT operations to a technology company and focus not only on administration but also on sales and marketing activities. The decision is made above all on what is most important to the company and its basis to achieve the most optimal profit level.

However, it is easy to predict that while the legal monopoly in lottery games may persist for a long time to come, the digitalization of the business will sooner or later drive all lotteries into a real competitive situation. In that world, traditional operating models will no longer succeed, but companies must understand and prepare for a huge change. That does not mean, for example, pushing responsibility out of the way of doing business, but changing companies’ processes, know-how, and management.