MORE GAMES PLEASE!

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

The world is changing, and cycles of change are constantly accelerating in all areas of living. This is also the case in gambling business and the change will continue. The digitalization of gambling has been talked about to the point of fatigue, but despite this, for example, many lotteries do not seem to be able to move around in a large scale. Somehow it seems that traditional state-owned lottery companies prefer to focus on the fight against change rather than seeing it as an opportunity. But change can’t be stopped and coping with change requires the ability to adapt to it.

Instead of the relentless talk of digitalization, I would like to bring another topic to the debate where I’d expect a much more active approach from the lotteries. Fighting against change has meant that lotteries’ own game portfolios haven’t been developed as much as they should be. 

A typical portfolio has been just a few draw-based games and some scratch cards. Product renewal has meant a new lotto game or instant ticket. No more radical changes have traditionally been seen from the lotteries.

The gambling market has been constantly evolving and new business areas have followed each other. People use a wide range of gambling products and have started to become customers for several different gambling companies. 

A modern and agile gambling company focused on the digital business often builds its strategy for a goal that aims to get customers to use products from as many different product groups as possible. The idea is based on the fact that a customer playing several different products in the same company is more likely to remain the company’s customer than those who play only one or two products.

Gambling companies will get another benefit if they manage to expand customer product usage. Customers, who increase the number of games they play, will also increase their total consumption on average.  Of course, the growth is not as big as the money invested in a new game, because most of the money spent on the new game is out of some other games they used to play before.

However, the actual jackpot for the company is available. If the money that customer uses for playing your new game is at the expense of the games of another gambling company, then the entire profit of this new game is new money for your company. If lottery expands its offering to completely new game types, it is possible that its loyal customer will discover games which he used to play with another company. In this situation, there is a chance that the customer will transfer all his gambling to the lottery and even in the case where his total gambling does not increase, the lottery’s profits can and will increase.

How does the traditional lottery product development with a “new lottery game” fit into that pattern, which is hoped to produce customers who are going to use just lottery’s own products? Not so good. With a new lottery game or scratch card it is extremely difficult to get any customer to transfer his gambling from another company to your lottery. 

A successful launch of the lottery game can certainly bring new money from old customers, but the turnover that has been accumulated mainly for the new product is a shift from your other products. You won’t earn a lot when you just move money from your right pocket to the left one.

Of course, I’m aware that in many countries lottery owners have curbed product development and instead been satisfied with the profits from the traditional lottery business. The most important thing has been to secure the established monopoly position and try to prevent that from being jeopardized. Business growth may not even be a key consideration. But what will the future look like if the static offering starts to lose interest against other gambling offerings? Not good at all.

The monopoly status of the lotteries is beginning to be more and more nominal.  Lottery betting has come to rob the same market and other gambling verticals have otherwise stuck right next to customers on their skin. Modern gambling is often fast and entertaining compared to lottery products. 

Nowadays it is much more difficult to get younger customers to become regular customers for lottery products. Should lotteries expand their offering to other gambling verticals? They definitely should if it is legally possible. And if it is not, at least a reasonable effort should be made to change the legislation to a form in which other gambling verticals could also be offered to the lottery customers.

Why has this not been done to a significant extent? The owner’s will and legislation are, of course, valid reasons but they can be influenced if necessary. The big ideological problem seems to be that many lottery operators are cautious about using smaller prize games to compete internally against traditionally higher payout lottery products. 

If only the same bet moves to a lower payout product, the revenue will of course be lower. You shouldn’t worry about that at all. In modern gambling products, the rhythm of gaming and the circulation of money enable the same kind of profits thanks to increased turnover. 

The crucial factor for the overall development of revenue is whether the customer is ready to increase the total amount of money he used to play or not. It is difficult to see that adding a new product group to the company’s portfolio would reduce the total amount of money spent on gambling in any significant customer segments.

In today’s gambling world where responsibility is the key word, the offering of lottery has traditionally been the product vertical that causes the least gambling problems. Will lotteries risk their reputation if they start offering more harmful gambling products? 

This is a scenario that needs to be taken into account. An extremely aggressive offering of casino games could lead to such a thing. To offer much softer sports and horse betting is hardly not. And casino games can also be offered to customers in a responsible way. The market situation and the potential of the different new product verticals should determine which product groups give the best balance between possible risks and profits. But responsibility shouldn’t be a barrier to expanding the range of gambling verticals for lotteries.

As we go further in the 2020s, it is clear that the competition in gambling businesses will become even harder. Even in countries where traditional betting shops have managed to maintain a strong position in the face of internet competition, the situation is not everlasting. 

Even in those cases, lotteries can’t fail to try to maintain their position as the sole gambling operator of large customer groups in their own country. However, this won’t be possible in the future unless lotteries are starting to expand their offerings to other gambling verticals. In the future a modern, successful, and competitive gambling company will offer a wide range of different gambling products from different gambling verticals. I would like to see lotteries to be among those modern gambling companies!

LOTTERY INNOVATIONS – CASE LOTTOLAND

I participate in World Gaming Executive Summit event in July in Barcelona. I had opportunity to be one of the members in panel where we discussed about lottery innovations. One of the fellow panelists was Nigel Birrell, CEO of Lottoland. I was surprised how much we agreed on current situation and also about the further development in lottery business. My company Veikkaus, the national monopoly operator, and Lottoland, the market “hooligan”, look lottery/gambling business from very different perspectives but finally we are trying to reach about same goals. I’ll now tell what I personally think about companies like Lottoland and also what are main changes needed in lottery business.

I was asked to give my “confession” about Lottoland in ICE Vox seminar in February 2018. Although as a protest I’m not used to give any confessions, I made presentation about that and here are 7 points I made 1½ years ago. I think that they are still valid.

  1. Lottery business has no competition
    1. Lotteries have believed that competition is in casino and sports betting business but in lottery business.
    1. Due to previous point lottery innovations haven’t been significant at all.
    1. Lotteries have been and unfortunately still are in protection mode – we have believed in lobbying & EU Law.
  2. The business idea of Lottoland is great
    1. Betting on lottery results and the Lottoland business model is something like “Uber” of the lottery business.
    1. What Lottoland has done would be possible for lotteries. Why lotteries haven’t done that by themselves?
    1. There are excellent business solutions from Lottoland.
  3. Scared & angry
    1. I felt scared & angry when I noticed what Lottoland was doing -> protection mode again
    1. I think that it was steal of our brands!
    1. There wouldn’t be Lottoland without lotteries because they business was based on our products.
  4. Wakeup call- thank you!
    1. We should develop our own business.
    1. The key issue is to understand motivations of our customers – huge jackpots is not the only reason to play lottery.
  5. New surprise(s)
    1. Lottoland moved to B-to-B business and that was new surprise.
    1. What will be next surprise – maybe “Super Lottoland”?
  6. Speed of development increases uncertainty
    1. How much and quick gaming and gambling businesses will merge?
    1. Blockchain or something else – there will be new technologies all the time.
  7. We are going to fight!
    1. Lotteries or at least some of us are ready for fair competition!

Lottoland is just one company and I use it only as an example to describe what would happen if companies don’t develop their businesses and don’t put effort on innovation. Then there will be someone else who is doing that and will win the battle. It’s extremely important that you understand and serve your customers as well as possible. In old days it was possible that company decided what they were selling but nowadays customer is decision maker and he/she has lots of alternatives where to select – also in lottery business despite of monopolies.

I realized at the latest in that panel in Barcelona that there are still lots of lotteries who are not trying to innovate anything. I knew that it was the case some years ago, but I was a little bit shocked that it still is. Due to that fact there is lots of empty space in lottery/gambling business where newcomers, companies like Lottoland, have excellent business opportunities. If lotteries believe that they will win the battle in courtrooms, they are totally wrong!

I know that it is not easy to keep monopoly and at the same time innovate new business solutions, but we should try to do that anyhow. I’m happy and proud that my company Veikkaus is going to host EL’s (European Lotteries) Innovation seminar here in Helsinki in November. We try to increase the level of knowhow, understanding and spirit of innovations among lotteries. I hope that after few years the reputation of lotteries is not anymore old-fashioned, and we could still run profitable and responsible business!

THE FINNISH GAMBLING MONOPOLY – TO HAVE OR NOT TO HAVE IT?

I’m still on my summer holiday and try to avoid to do too much work but now it’s almost impossible to avoid that. There is the most active discussion about the Finnish gambling system going on and I believe that I understand very well what it is about. I should mention once again that all opinions are my own ones and my company Veikkaus has nothing to do with this blog.

We got new government about two months ago and I gave my estimations what that will mean for the Finnish gambling policy and system. I believed that the importance of responsible gaming will increase, and the current monopoly-based system will stay until the end of 4 years period of the new government. I still believe on that but now the probability of system change has become a little bit higher. Our Prime Minister Antti Rinne has said that Finland should make deep analyze about other possibilities too.

There are two main areas which have caused lots of discussion. The first one has been those 18000 slot machines which Veikkaus has all over the country in shops, cafeterias and gasoline stations. The second item has been ads where Veikkaus has given too positive feeling of gambling. It’s quite obvious that there have been too big mistakes in those ads where for example “therapist” has encouraged “patient” to make some horse betting. But are those mistakes so serious ones that due to them we should discuss about the gambling system? Are those mistakes sign of something bigger problem which we have?

The new Veikkaus is in bad situation. The company is 100 % owned by the Finnish State. It’s obvious that management should follow the guidelines which owner will give but has it been clear what the owner is willing to have? The operational profit from Veikkaus to the state has been over 1 billion euros a year and gambling tax has been about 200 million a year. The Finnish State has got from Veikkaus totally about 1,2 B€ which is over 2 % of the state budget. So, we are talking about the huge financial issue. But as you know, the fiscal revenue can’t be the official reason for gambling monopoly. The only acceptable reason for monopoly system could be prevention of social problems like crime and problem gambling. The Finnish State has decided that monopoly is the best way to prevent those gambling problems. But would it be possible to maintain that revenue level and at the same time prevent problems?

The Finnish State should decide which is the primary goal of Veikkaus – money or responsible gaming. If they will select responsible gaming, it will mean that they should accept that the revenue level will go down quite a lot. I think that it would be quite easy to increase responsibility if we don’t have to care about the profit at all. But Veikkaus doesn’t have monopoly anymore in real life and our regulators don’t have tools to regulate those offshore companies which have already quite big market share in online gambling business in Finland (their GGR from Finland is about 300 M€). If Veikkaus will increase the responsible level and regulator can’t control those unregulated companies the gambling revenue will go outside the Finnish borders and gambling problems won’t decrease. If the Finnish State will select profit as a main goal, it will mean the end of monopoly and we’ll do the same what has happened for example in Denmark and Sweden.

I would say that the current situation is strange where Veikkaus is in the middle and ”shots” are coming from socially responsible bodies which are looking for much more responsible gaming actions and require Veikkaus to stop business development and marketing. At the same time ”shots” are also coming from total other side from more business-oriented bodies who would like to break monopoly-based system and promote offshore gambling companies. It is almost fun to follow that kind of discussion where those two totally opposite bodies have found the common enemy. I would say that it would be similar case when in politics extreme right and extreme left will find common enemy.

The new government decided just two months ago what kind of gambling policy they will follow. Despite of that our Prime Minister Antti Rinne said few days ago that they will consider that policy again, but it should be based on facts and deep understanding of gambling business. Quite many EU countries have moved from monopoly system to license-based system and we have lots of bench marking information from those changes. I think that we could utilize the experiences from France, Denmark and Sweden and could estimate what that kind of gambling systems would mean here in Finland from business and responsible gaming point of views. I have been surprised that there is not so much information about responsible gaming results from those other countries – it even seems that they haven’t care about that so much when they have changed their systems. As far as I know they didn’t make any problem gambling research in Denmark before they moved to the license system.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to take care profit and responsible gaming at the same time but it’s very difficult to do. I’m saying that decision makers should know what they are looking for and what those changes might mean. As an economist I would say that monopoly as such will decrease the business activities. So, if Finland will follow the Swedish way, it would mean that at least that gambling activities will increase and we’ll have more marketing actions. But at the same time our regulators could control all those current unregulated offshore companies which are nowadays out of their scope and that would be positive thing. I don’t know what will happen here in Finland, but I know that we’ll interesting time ahead.

PREDICTIONS ABOUT SPORTS BETTING

It’s already 1½ months when I last time wrote my blog. I should be more active but there have been so many other things to do…

I participated in World Gaming Executive Summit few weeks ago in Barcelona. That was good event where I got some ideas for my blog. I had excellent panel discussion about the future of lotteries with CEO of Lottoland and I’ll write about that after my summer vacation but now I’ll concentrate on Sports Betting – again.

Sergey Portnov, CEO of Parimatch, gave interesting predictions about the future of Sports Betting. I’ll summarize what Sergey told and make my own predictions too. Let’s see how well we could see the future of Sports Betting.

Portnov presented 10 points and gave odds all of them. Here is short version about his predictions without those odds:

  • there will be 100+ new betting sites targeting 18 – 25 years old segment
  • marketing massacre is imminent, budgets doubling and LTV also growing
  • bookmakers will run their own sports competitions to ensure always on live betting propositions
  • majority of companies will transform management teams
  • ICE event will be overfilled with payments solutions, bookmakers will finally start building USPs around payments
  • sport streaming in its current form will become obsolete
  • individual product offerings will overtake generic offerings
  • all major players in the market will rebrand
  • offshore market will grow faster than regulates market
  • esports will account for 10 % revenue for betting operators

It’s very logic that I look Sports Betting from different perspective than Sergey does. Finland versus Ukraine/Cyprus and state-owned monopoly versus private owned offshore company are totally different worlds. Anyhow we both know Sports Betting business well and that’s why I could agree with Sergey about many of his points.

My 10 predictions about the future (5 years) of Sports Betting are:

  • GAFA companies will enter to gambling/Sports Betting business
  • big media companies will utilize their sports media rights also in Sports Betting business
  • companies will have separate Sports Betting brands & offering for active customers and average customers
  • individual products & services will increase their popularity
  • esports will be the second biggest sport in Sports Betting (includes new esports formats)
  • marketing of Sports Betting will be banned – at least in EU
  • bonuses won’t be allowed
  • regulated companies will have at least 80 % market share in Europe and North America
  • there will be new popular Sports Betting products which are different ones compared to current fixed odds Sports Betting
  • the importance of responsible gaming will increase dramatically