RESPONSIBILITY – COMPETITIVE EDGE FOR LOTTERIES?

I wrote this column for http://www.lotterydaily.com and they published it some days ago. This text is partly modified by Matthew Ramirez.

The background of lotteries is in almost all cases from states and quite often it is also linked to the organizations that care for charity issues like social welfare and sports. Consequently, lotteries have been regarded as different from normal commercial gambling enterprises. 

Lotteries try to collect money for good causes but haven’t always been able to use all possible tools to achieve that end. There is also the perception that lotteries are more responsible operators than those from the commercial gambling sector. 

But during the last few years the lottery environment has changed a lot and lotteries are no longer the homogenous group they were. As a result, it’s not obvious that lotteries are acting any more responsibly than their commercial gambling counterparts. But should that be the case?

I would say that we could section lotteries to three separate groups. The first group is lotteries which are owned by states and which are acting like state offices. The next group is lotteries which are running their business in a similar way to other gambling companies. The third group falls somewhere between those two first groups. They are trying to run business but are not willing or allowed to use all possible commercial tools to achieve that.

What kind of business could those ‘state office’ style companies have and how could they succeed against commercial competition? The owners of those companies are in all cases the states which try to control gambling business as much as they can. But it has become more difficult due to digitalization where customers have lots of other opportunities available. 

There are just two possibilities for those kinds of lotteries. One is to prevent all other gambling activities which, for me, is the ‘North Korean’ way to act. The second option is to change the business strategy of the company.

I’m not sure if we should call those business-oriented lotteries as lotteries at all. While they are still ostensibly running lottery businesses, they also have lots of other businesses. They have other gambling verticals like sports betting and in many cases also casino games in their product portfolio. They could also have business operations in other areas and in many countries. 

There are some lotteries which are privately owned and even listed on the stock exchange. It is easy to understand what the difference is between totally state controlled companies and publicly listed companies. I would say that the only reason why those companies are still considered a part of the ‘family’ of lotteries is that they operate monopoly-based lottery products (Lotto). 

The most challenging and, at the same time, interesting group are those lotteries which exist between those two first groups. This ‘middle group’ of lotteries is trying to achieve commercial business goals, but without the same tools that their business-oriented counterparts are using. 

Those lotteries could have some other gambling products like sports betting in their offering and they are in most cases serving their customers in retail and digital channels. Channeling is a good word to describe the ideology behind those kinds of lotteries. It means that they are trying to offer their customers legal alternatives to those games offered by private gambling companies. 

However, they are restricted to using lower payout percentages and are not allowed to offer bonuses etc. I’m not sure if that kind of operation would succeed in the long term without tight restrictions for other gambling companies. The ‘middle group’ will sooner or later face similar challenges and problems to those experienced by ‘state office’ lotteries if they don’t change their strategies.

For a company to succeed, it should understand what its customers are willing to have and what other options those customers have available to them. It sounds simple – know your customers and your competitors. The next step is to understand what your own strengths are. If you are not better than your competitors in any area, you will have big difficulties ahead! 

A successful company doesn’t have to be the best one in all areas – nowadays it is probably impossible. You should have a few (or at least one) areas where you are better than your competitors and you shouldn’t be worse than average in any areas. That’s incredibly good basics for a successful business!

So where should lotteries be looking to identify their competitive edge? Are those ‘middle group’ lotteries better than other gambling operators in any areas? The most common success factors for companies are strategy, people, finance, operations, and marketing. I don’t believe that lotteries could be stronger than other companies in management or leadership areas and the same problem is also with personnel/staff. 

The salary level in lotteries is so far away from top-class business companies that it’s impossible to attract the best people to lotteries. But I trust that it would be possible to get good enough directors and experts and avoid the risk to be worse than an average in those two areas.

How about finance? Could lotteries find their strength from that area? In principle it could be possible but not in practice. States have money but there are so many areas which need more resources that it’s unlikely that they would invest lots more resources in their lotteries. I would say that state-owned companies are not investing as much as the best companies are doing and states are in many cases careful owners – they are risk-averse. So, no competitive edge from that area.

We have two potential areas left. How about operations? Would it be possible to have better processes and/or way of working than other companies have, and would it really matter for lottery/gambling business? Of course it could be possible, but I don’t believe that operations would be the area where any companies could gain competitive edge for gambling operations.

Some lotteries seem to think that their perceived trustworthiness in relation to commercial gambling enterprises remains their strength, but I don’t believe in that. This could be area where a company could lose the game, not win it.

So, we have just one area remaining – marketing. I think that “marketing” is a limited way of describing that area. It involves among other things communication, brand, sales, and customer relationship. But there seems to be two areas which could offer a potential competitive edge for lotteries. 

All lotteries have strong retail sale channels and most lotteries nowadays have digital sale channels too. Those lotteries which have two strong sales channels or even one omni-channel solution could achieve a competitive advantage on commercial gambling operators which are serving their customers solely online. 

Unfortunately too many lotteries still face challenges with their own online sale channels. That’s why I don’t believe that omni-channel is currently the solution to winning the competition against private gambling companies. Maybe it could be possible in the coming years? 

Lotteries have enjoyed strong brand recognition and good reputations, at least in Western Europe where lottery operations have operated for tens of years and given millions or even billions to good causes. That ‘money for good causes’ could be seen as a potential strength for lotteries. 

But nowadays in many countries lottery profits are going to the state and not directly to beneficiaries. As a result, customers are no longer certain as to where those profits are actually going, to the point where it looks just like another form of taxation. 

My solution would be a combination of brand, communication, and customer relationship. Lotteries should communicate that they are acting in a more responsible way than the most of their commercial gambling counterparts. 

They should explain that they are subject to stricter limits on the gambling products they offer which is why they are different from those offered by commercial gambling firms. Lotteries should tell consumers that they take responsible gaming seriously and that they are operating frameworks where gambling is as responsible as possible. 

The purpose of those restrictions is to take care of customers and to prevent problems. I believe that lotteries could use responsibility as a way of gaining a competitive edge in gambling business. They should be saying: “We are offering the safest and most trustable environment for gaming!” But it won’t work if lotteries just say it, they must also run their businesses in a way that demonstrates that.

ARE LOTTERIES DIFFERENT THAN OTHER GAMBLING COMPANIES?

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.

LOTTERIES IN SPORTS BETTING BUSINESS

I participated in Betting on Football (BOF) event in London earlier this week. I was there as an expert in two different panel discussions. The first one was about Sports Betting market stagnation and the other one was about lotteries role in Sports Betting business. I also chaired the European Lotteries Sports Betting working group meeting before that BOF event. So I have got lots of stimulation from Sports Betting business lately and I try to think about what that information might mean for lotteries.

The first question is what companies are lotteries? I’m not trying to write any official definition because I’m not able to do it anymore. Lottery used to be a company which offered Lotto games normally based on monopoly situation. The most of lotteries are used to have also some other games too. Nowadays it is more common that lotteries still have monopoly in Lotto games are but not so often in other gambling areas anymore. Some former lotteries have wide product portfolios and they are offering all kind of games. For example, my company Veikkaus has all possible gambling products like lottery, Sports Betting, Horse Betting, bingo, casino games, slot machines etc… Is Veikkaus lottery anymore? As in our panel discussion in London also here in this blog I mean by lotteries still the companies which are offering monopoly-based Lotto games and it doesn’t matter if they are offering other games either in monopoly or in license markets.

One of the questions in BOF panel was could lotteries offer Sports Betting? It was strange question to me because we have had sports games since 1940’s and introduced fixed odds Sports Betting already 25 years ago. I see sports games as natural part of our product portfolio. There are more than 70 lotteries as members in European Lottery Association and about 2/3 of them have sports games in their product portfolio. So, lottery could and should operate in Sports Betting business, but can they do that in same way than Sports Betting companies like William Hill, Ladbrokes, Unibet & co are doing? They should do that but in some cases legislation would set restrictions. If lottery has monopoly also in Sports Betting it can’t use exactly the same tools than “normal business companies”. The reason why states have gambling monopolies is to restrict and control that business. Normal it means limitation to the business which in open market cases don’t exist.

The French gambling business consultant Christian Kalb has made survey among European lotteries to analyze how those companies are offering their Sports Betting products. He found out that there seem to be three or actually four different kind of strategies in that area. There is small group of lotteries who have positioned themselves to real competition in that area and are running Sports Betting like business as usual. The second group is offering quite many sports games but with a little bit worse rules (payout etc.) than private companies. Surprisingly big third group has Sports Betting or Football Pools but are offering it mainly like lottery games. Fourth group is that 1/3 of companies who haven’t been willing or allowed to have Sports Betting at all. Companies from those different groups are totally different ones from customer point of view and I try to analyze the first and second group to find out the question what kind of possibilities lotteries might have in Sports Betting.

Some lotteries are among the biggest Sports Betting companies in the world. Someone might be surprised that Hong Kong Jockey Club is the member of World Lottery Association and it could be called as a lottery? There are two real big European lotteries in Sports Betting business too. Those companies are OPAP from Greece and FDJ from France. FDJ is operating in heavy competition in French digital market and manages very well. The other kind of example of competitive lottery in Sports Betting is from Denmark where the state changed the legal system from the beginning of 2012. Lottery Danske Spil was split to two separate companies Danske Lotteri Spil and Danske License Spil where both are still part of Danske Spil company. Danske License Spil is in heavy competition and have exact the same tools and rules than other Sports Betting companies have. The lottery monopoly Svenska Spel from Sweden has now faced the same kind of change than Danske Spil had 7 years earlier. I’m keen on seeing the first results from there and analyzing them after few weeks. I was surprised that Christian Kalb put also Veikkaus to that first group. I agree that we are trying to operate Sports Betting as business as usual but have many limitations compared to those private companies. Anyhow for those business-oriented lotteries Sports Betting is normal business and natural part of everything else and they seem to manage very well also in competition if they would have possibility and will to have same condition than the other ones.

Example of companies from the second group are German lotteries. They have had fixed odds Sports Betting already many years, but they don’t have competitive rules there at all. They had monopoly in Sports Betting in principle but in practice they have faced competition from the beginning. Those German lotteries have had right to cooperate with each other and they have managed to utilize their huge lottery customer potential a little bit also in Sports Betting, but they have lost the competition quite badly anyhow. Now there is new legal environment in Germany, but lotteries haven’t changed their Sports Betting offering. I’m now sure if the reason has been legal restriction or is the decision made by lotteries themselves? I think that lotteries should either offer real product or stay away that business totally. I understand some limitations like lower risk limits and a little bit lower payout percent but those shouldn’t be too far away from the market level. If lotteries are not willing to compete in fixed odds Sports Betting they could offer more “lottery style” sports games like Football Pools and pool-based sports betting products – for example Moniveto (correct scores in 3-4 football matches) here in Finland. It’s always better from customer point of view to get all products from one shop and that’s why all lotteries should have sports games in their portfolio.