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.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FACTS

I have a problem, big personal problem! I’m a person who likes to make decisions based on facts. I haven’t understood how someone can trust on decision-making process where they haven’t used correct information. But now, someone could say finally, I have realized that it is not always clear what the facts are. “The truth” could be different for me than for the other person.

It has been obvious that there are almost always lack of information and we have to make decisions without all facts. We are living in the middle of chaos and we should accept that. But I still believe that right information will help you to make better decisions and that’s why you should try to collect as much facts as possible.

My company made quite big report for one of our customers. We needed there lots of information about different countries and market developments. As always, I made a list of statistics and other information which we should have before writing the final report. It sounded as a quite simple process to collect that kind of background package and the idea was to make analysis based on that information. It wasn’t so difficult to collect information, but we made one mistake which caused me personal crisis. We were curious to hear two different stories about the same situation. Both of those stories were believable ones and they were based on facts. How it could be possible that two bodies were using different facts when they were talking about the same situation?

The outcome of our work would be quite different if we would believe on the other story but not on the other one. That’s why we decided to have the third opinion from the independent research company. We got there the third version of “the truth”. Which one of those three stories is the right one? We don’t know but it was easy to choose the facts from the research company because they probably don’t have reason to have wrong data by purpose. But those two other bodies are working in that area and they should have more information than the foreign research company has, so did we make right decision?

Of course I have known that companies are using data which is supporting their own business goals. Here in Finland we are even used to say “lie, whopper, statistics” which describes that it’s possible to “prove” with statistics whatever you want. My problem is that I don’t understand why we are doing that? I believe that the world would be better place and companies would make better business if we would have the real data available. Sharing the information would help everybody and then it would be up to companies and persons how they would use that information.

I describe two cases from the gambling world where the correct information would help almost everybody. The first case is the prevention of gambling problems. The gambling industry has all data of their customers’ gambling behavior. If ministries or other authorities who are taking care of gambling problems would have that data and if they could link that to other information they have about same persons, they would have much better tools for fighting against gambling problems.

Someone might say that gambling companies are not willing to share all information about their customers because they are afraid of loosing too much revenue by doing that. They have risk of loosing customers who are playing much, probably too much. From short term business point of view they are the most profitable customers, but is that the case in long-term? If gambling business would manage to reduce gambling problems, the reputation of whole industry would increase and in long-term it might mean better business for all gambling companies. If regulators would have better information and tools, they could set more personalized limits and let normal customers continue gambling without so tight restrictions.

The other case is the discussion of market shares and the size of gambling business in specific countries. I take Finland as an example although I believe that it is not the worst example at all. Does anyone know what is the size of whole gambling business in Finland and how big market shares different gambling companies have here? No, although all data is there but companies are not willing to share it. Just the total numbers from monopoly operator Veikkaus are available and everything else is based on estimations or even guesses.

Veikkaus used to publish their own analysis about the size of total gambling business and their own market share of that in Finland. Offshore companies were saying that Veikkaus was underestimating the offshore gambling business in Finland. At the same time gambling problem researches were saying that Veikkaus was overestimating that offshore gambling. That led to the situation where Veikkaus is nowadays using the independent estimation from H2GC, but the similar discussion is still going on around that issue. Offshore companies say that offshore business is bigger than H2GC is estimating and authorities say vice versa. It is easy to understand what the reasons for that are. Both bodies are trying to improve their own interests.

It would be important to have the real data from the offshore companies to make correct decisions about the gambling law and regulation. Now the authorities have to make decisions based on incomplete information and there is the risk that they will make wrong decisions. I would like to develop the system where we would have all important facts available for decision making. That would make gambling business better for the customers for sure and probably it would be better for the companies too.

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.

COVID-19 – A WAKE-UP CALL

I wrote a blog “Digitalization of Lottery Business” two months ago. I will now continue with the same theme and this blog will partly be the same than that previous one. I believe on principle “Repetition is the mother of learning”. I got the impulse for this one from the virtual SBC Digital Summit event where I participated in panel discussion last week. I discussed with Steen Madsen (A Game Above), Stuart Godfree (Mkodo) and Chris Armes (GiG) about mobile and digital opportunities for lotteries. I have thought that issues a lot during last few days and believe that we could help operators, lotteries and the other ones, who would like to develop their offering and service in that area.

It is already now obvious that Covid-19 has changed our lives. It has been amazing how fast that changed has happened. Unfortunately, it has not been good changes, but I would say that it hasn’t been totally bad either. Of course, I’m not talking about the number of dead or sick people, but how we have changed our habits to buy things and spend our free time. That “damn virus” has also showed to companies that there should be agile ways to change business strategies and plans very quickly. Those companies who have managed to do that, have better possibilities to stay alive during that crisis and after that.

Covid-19 has shown one big weakness from gambling business which is mainly problem for casinos and lotteries. That weakness is to big role of retail business and the lack of digital online business. It’s not good solution if you have “all your eggs in the same basket”. We have the best/worst examples of that in Las Vegas where casinos have been closed now some weeks and most of them have just minor online business going on or in many cases not at all online business. That has meant 95 – 100 % lost of sales and profits have changed to losses. Too many lotteries have faced similar problem. When places where you are used to sell your lottery tickets are not allowed to be open, you don’t have any places where you could get sales if you don’t have online/digital channel. There are examples where big lotteries have been forced to stop whole operations when they haven’t had online sales at all, or the share of that business has been too small.

The other example of “all eggs in the same basket” problem is sports betting. Those operators who have had just sports betting business without any other gambling verticals have faced extremely big problems. If you have offered only sports betting and there are no sports events going on, what else you could do than stop your operations? Those sports betting operators who have had for example virtual sports and/or online casino games in their product portfolio have had possibility to continue their businesses.

I said in panel discussion last week that hopefully Covid-19 is the wake-up for lotteries. Actually it should be wake-up call also for some other gambling operators too! It is not useful to say that lotteries should understand the need of change already many years ago. It is better to concentrate on the future and how they could make things better. As a skeptic guy, I‘m not sure how many of them are willing to change and how fast they are ready to do it. The time for action is NOW not sometimes in the future!

There are many things what gambling operators should have learnt from the crisis we have faces during last 2 -3 month. Companies should have adaptive strategy which means capability to react on big changes fast. They should also have capability to move changes in strategy to business plans and further to operational level as quickly as possible but in the way which their organization and customers will understand. The main problems in that area are slow processes, the fear of change and the lack of communication with employees and customers.

There are at least four areas where the most of lotteries should make improvements. Those area are digitalization, customer centric operations, products & services, and technology. All those areas would be worth of own blog, but I try to explain the main changes now shortly.

Although retail is really important part of lottery business, lotteries should have digital business too. Lotteries should understand that online sale is not against retail business but rather will support that. The next step for more developed lotteries will be omni-channel solution where retail and online will establish “one package” and work as a one sale channel. We have noticed that it is easier to offer services for customers in digital channels than in traditional retail network. But it would be possible to offer those supporting services and new kind of products also in retail network if companies could utilize digitalization in all channels, not only in online channel. Lotteries should start digitalization immediately if they haven’t done that yet.

Lotteries should have capability to serve their customers whenever and wherever they are willing to buy products. It is old fashioned way to think that good product would be enough to get customers and sales. Companies should understand and admit that customers are kings and queens and they will decide what, when and where they are going to buy. We should understand more about our customers and data is one important part of that. Lotteries should put more resources on data utilization and automatization. I’m sure that it would bring them more satisfied customers and better business.

I already wrote about “all eggs in the same basket” dilemma. Gambling companies should have wider product portfolio than the most of them have at the moment. That is big problem for lotteries mainly. There are still plenty of lotteries who are offering just basic lottery products like Lotto and scratch cards. There might be legal reasons for that, but I would say that in many cases those legal and regulative problems are just too easy explanations. I don’t believe that it would be impossible to add for example horse and sport betting to product portfolio. From business risk management point of view it is better to have wider product portfolio than limited one.

I have always seen technology as a tool for business. I must admit that it is extremely important tool which allows you to develop your business. Gambling operators should have as modern and agile technology solutions as possible. Companies should have as fast time to market time as possible and technology is the most important element there. I think that one big challenge in that area for lotteries is unwillingness to make changes to technology which they are used to use. The most of lotteries are used to buy everything from same technology supplier and that would block the possibility for change and opportunity to use the best solutions in different areas.

Lotteries should be more ready to take more risks, controlled ones of course. I’m extremely keen on helping lotteries, and other gambling operators, if they would like to start to change their business now. The game is not over, but Covid-19 has showed that time for change is now!

MY NEW BUSINESS LIFE

This blog will be quite personal and commercial one. I’m going to tell something about my business future and would like to hear what you think about my/our plans.

As you might have read, I resigned from Veikkaus two months ago and now I’m officially out from there and it’s time to do something else. I have started today new consulting company together with my friend Reijo Anttila and would like to give some information about our plans. Our timing is not at all perfect “thanks” to Covid-19, but we believe on our ideas and expertise and trust that there will be request for our service soon or later anyhow.

We have established consulting and development company called The Finnish Gambling Consultants which will concentrate on gambling related operations globally. We are targeting international gambling operators and suppliers. Me and Reijo (also from Veikkaus) own that company together. Both of us have worked 20+ years in the Finnish gambling operators in many different high positions and have got lots of knowledge about successful gambling business.

We have managed to make non-exclusive partnerships with five excellent professionals who will give us more resources and expertise if needed. I guess that you have heard names Philippe Vlaemminck, David Sargeant, Christian Kalb, Robin Bowler and Mark Knighton before. We have also informal network of esports experts which we could utilize if there would be need for esports consulting. It’s possible that there will be few more partnerships quite soon.

We have recognized our focus areas. There could be even more of them, but we have decided to concentrate on these six areas mainly.  

  1.  Digitalization of gambling business. We have both over 20 years’ experience about that. I was responsible for online business when Veikkaus introduced that as the first lottery in late 1996. Reijo led the project when horse betting company Fintoto did the same some years later. We believe that we could help companies as well in strategic planning’s as at the executive level. During that special Covid-19 pandemic time it has been easy to notice that some companies, mainly lotteries, should be much more active in digital business.
  • New gambling verticals. We could help gambling companies, including lotteries, if they want to introduce new gaming vertical to their product portfolio or establish gambling business for the first time. We could help customers to find the most tempting products for their customer segments. We have recent experience from that when we were involved in the merger process of three gambling companies here in Finland. Nowadays all gambling verticals (lottery, casino, sports betting) are in the same company.
  • Improvement of existing business. We can help companies to make analysis of existing situation and give proposal of potential improvement areas. We could also help them in the decision-making process and further execution of that plan. We are used to make lots of analysis in our works and managed to get good results from that work.
  • Horse and sports betting. Our deepest experience is from horse and sports betting sector and we could offer new business and products ideas for that business sector. I’m sure that give lots of help for example to the lotteries who would like to introduce sports betting to their product portfolio. The other special knowledge we have from that area is pool-based games which are popular ones here in Nordic countries.
  • Utilization of data. We have worked many years with customer and product data and are able to help companies to create customer-oriented business models. We know gambling specific features about data and measurements. We believe that same models with local tunings work well around the globe and that’s why we would be able to help all kind of gambling companies globally in that area.
  • Strategy work. We could help companies to plan the strategy work of the company or the specific business division. We have done that many times in Veikkaus and Fintoto and could utilize that knowledge for sure. We could also provide content for that work if needed. Especially in that area we have excellent partnership network!

We are not going to concentrate only on consulting business although it will be big part of our business. The remarkably interesting area will be our own development & innovation. I would describe that as the seventh area.

  • New business models. We are doing the development of new business models for gambling operators by ourselves and are ready to make revenue shared business contracts about those models with operators. I’m excited about that area! I’m sure that we have and shall have excellent new business ideas and hopefully we’ll find out companies who would like to utilize those ideas.

You could find out more information about the company and us from our internet site: www.finnishgc.fi . You could send me your comments about our business plan/focus areas to my new email address jari.vahanen@finnishgc.fi . You could use the same email if you would start cooperation discussion with us too.

DIGITALIZATION OF LOTTERY BUSINESS

Lottery business has been based on monopoly all over the world as long as I could remember. Lottery games have been run by national lotteries mainly. Those companies have been owned by states, but that’s not the case anymore. There are already many countries where lottery games are operated by private companies which are trying to make as good business as possible. That has changed the lottery world a lot and has caused big differences between different lotteries. Lottery companies used be like state offices in old days and they still are in some countries. At the same time there are modern business companies running those games too. It would be interesting to see what will happen in lottery business if for example Virgin Group will win the UK lottery license…

Because the ownership and business strategies of lotteries are so different, it’s natural that the state of digitalization of those companies varies a lot. We have lottery companies where the share of digital business is something like 50 % of total business and companies which haven’t even started the digitalization of their business. Someone could guess that state-owned companies are in the latter group and private companies are in the first group, but that’s not the case. For example, my former company Veikkaus is 100 % owned by the Finnish State and almost 50 % of lottery business is coming from digital channels. Another similar example is Norsk Tipping.

I have said many times before that gambling, or lottery, business is not specific and separate business area. Our consumers are used to use digital channels to get other services and products. People are using internet and their mobile phones almost for everything and it’s strange if they can’t get their lottery products from there too. Actually, lottery products are more suitable for digital channels than many other products, because there is no need for distribution. Lotteries should be part of normal life and be available in digital channels if customers would like to get them there.

Veikkaus introduced lottery games in internet already in 1996/1997 as the first lottery in the world – sorry my Icelandic friends! I was in charge of that digital business first years and due to that I was visiting many lotteries and events and told about our solutions and experiences. Those days the most of lotteries were afraid of reactions from retail network and weren’t ready to introduce digital solutions. It took surprisingly many years until lottery companies outside the Nordic countries started digitalization of their business. Veikkaus and other Nordic lotteries (Danske Spil, Norsk Tipping and Svenska Spel) have further developed their digital businesses. Someone might say that we are using digital tools even too much and trying to sell more than enough. Digitalization and utilization of customer data enable us to make more effective marketing and product development and that will improve the business results. Lotteries should find out the balance of business and responsible gaming together with regulator, but that is partly another story.

I believe that digitalization will give lottery companies and regulators more tools for responsible gaming too. We get lots of data from digital channels and that make it possible to analyze customer behavior more than it’s possible in retail channels where gambling has been anonymous. Digitalization makes it possible to give better service for customers. We could also offer more entertaining games and services. Of course, it’s important that lotteries understand how far they could go and control their actions. Otherwise there is a risk that gambling problems would increase.

The market situation has also changed. There are nowadays companies like Lottoland operating in lottery sector and traditional lotteries should compete against those modern companies. It’s impossible “fight” if we are not using the similar tools. I think that it’s better way to compete by developing our own business than try to beat those newcomers in courtrooms. I would almost like to thank Lottoland about “wake up-call” for lotteries…

It’s important to understand that digitalization of lottery business doesn’t mean just new digital channels internet and mobile. There are also lots of new opportunities for traditional retail channel. It’s possible and necessary to utilize new technology in retail business too. We have already lots of example of multi-channel products. We have brought digital services to retail network and that has utilized both sales channels. FDJ in France and Danske Spil in Denmark have managed to get excellent business results when they have launched new digital services for their retail network. I have admitted that I believe in omni-channel solutions. I’m sure that lotteries will introduce games where customer could play same game in retail network and continue that game in digital channel or vice versa. I’m also sure that customers will use their mobile phones for gambling when they are physically in retail shops – we have already seen some small examples of that. It might be impossible to say in the future which part of lottery business is digital and which retail business and it doesn’t matter at all. Lotteries should understand that retail business is the asset which the most of other gambling operators don’t have and that’s why it’s important part of the business to further develop!

Marketing of gambling (products)

I just spent long football weekend together with my former colleagues Antti, Erkko and Mika with whom we took care of marketing of sports and horse betting business in ”good old days” here in Finland. We used to have real funny time at the office and we managed to make excellent marketing campaigns. I believe that quite many middle-aged sports fans still remember our ”Maailma on erilainen vakioveikkaajan silmin”-campaign (you could find those Football Pools themed ads with Google or from YouTube…). We didn’t only toot our own horn but also tried to find out ideas for gambling marketing. It’s not easy task at all, but we had interesting discussion about that.

Gambling has always been ”dangerous” business, almost like alcohol and tobacco. Now attitudes against gambling have become even more negative due increase and awaremess of gambling problems. That has effected on marketing and communication a lot. Many countries have lots of restrictions for marketing of gambling products. Italy decided to have total marketing ban of all gambling products. There are similar rules for all gambling verticals like casino, sports betting and lottery. It seems that some countries might follow the example of Italy.

Veikkaus has still possibility to use marketing as a tool to promote its business in Finland. Gambling products have been divided to ”green” and ”red” games. Veikkaus is allowed to have marketing campaigns about ”green” games (for example lottery, football pools and scratch cards) which are not so dangerous ones. It’s not possible to have marketing campaigns of ”red” games (casino games, sports betting, horse betting etc.), but it’s allowed to give product information about those games and sometimes it’s difficult to explain the difference between marketing and product information.

It’s good that people understand better the risks of gambling and are aware of gambling problems. I think that regulator should set up guidelines for gambling operators and supervise those rules. Marketing should be one part of those guidelines (rules). I don’t believe that total ban of gambling marketing would be the best solution. The better one would be something like we have in alcohol business where companies are allowed to market ”not so dangerous” products but not at all those heavy ones.

I have said many times before that companies should know and understand their customers as well as possible. That’s the key issue also in marketing. If you know your customers’ main motivations for gambling, you could make better marketing for them. It’s totally different what kind of messages you should give for ”jackpot dreamers” than for people who is looking for entertainment. It’s another question should it be possible to market those entertaining casino games at all…

Sport is the most important reason for gambling for big group of customers. Of course some of them are dreaming to get big money from sports games and some of them are looking for entertainment by watching sports, but I would say that sport is specific reason to play money games. There are at least two quite separate groups inside sports betting customers. Sports punters are keen on gambling and they are trying to utilize their knowledge of sports to earn money. I think that there is no need to have any marketing actions for that group. The other group is much bigger one and it’s sports fans. For them sports at itself is more important than gambling, which is just ”extra feature” to get more excitement from sports.

What kind of marketing we should do for those sports fans? I don’t like ”buy now”- or ”win 1M€”-style marketing adds and especially in sports games area they are ineffective ones. If you would like to reach sports fans, you should concentrate on sports and try to offer them chance for insight. I think that me and my friends managed to do that in ”good old days” when we published for example ad which was copy of famous painting God’s Hand by Michelangelo and we added blue&white stripes and number 10 to that arm. It’s important that customer would get good feeling when he/she is watching those ads. You should also try to offer that same feeling when they are playing your games. If you manage to do that, you could have good but responsible gambling business.

We discussed also about the possibilities of social media, digital channel and retail network, but those ideas will be the theme of my next blog…

Bye-bye!

This blog will be quite different compared to my former ones. This is a personal one and if you would like to learn something about the gambling business, you should wait the next blog and skip this. If you would like to know me better, you should continue reading…

Over 28 years is a long time. Probably some of the readers haven’t even lived as long time. That’s anyhow the period which I have been honored to work with the Finnish gambling operators. I started in the Horse Betting company and spent most of my time with Lottery & Sports Betting operator and now have worked last 3 years in the new Gambling company (lottery, sports betting, horse betting & casino). I could call myself as a veteran of gambling business although I’m not ready to admit that I’m old – mentally I’m still a young guy!

As you could guess from the title of this blog, it’s time to say goodbye for Veikkaus. I have mixed feelings about that. At the same time, I’m excited but also sad. I called old Veikkaus as my own company and that was my honest feeling. It might sound strange when someone is calling state-owned monopoly company as his own company, but that was the feeling I had. The marriage with the new Veikkaus hasn’t gone so well and I have had big difficulties to get that same feeling. To be honest, it hasn’t been even close to that. I have tried, but nothing has helped, and I haven’t been able to give my best.

If I use comparison from my sport, football, I would say that I’m still one of the best players who could play in almost whatever position. But as you know, it’s not only about the personal skills of players but also about the team’s tactic. Sometimes it happens that skillful player doesn’t manage very well when the way of playing is not suitable for him/her. I think that this is the case now with me and the new Veikkaus. They don’t need my style of a player anymore. I have been used to have an important role in the team and lately I have been mainly on the bench. That’s why I have now asked for a transfer to somewhere else.

I’m not 100 % sure what will happen next. Officially I’ll be Veikkaus employee still two months and after that there will be some restrictions where I could work. My “SBC Events friends” Rasmus and Andrew have offered me opportunity to act as their advisor until I could start real working again. It’s good to continue in the gambling business also during my “personal break”.

Of course I have already plans for the future. I’ll probably establish own gambling consulting company together with my partner. I’ll tell you more about that when it’s sure that we’ll do it. Anyhow I’m excited about possibilities to work with other gambling operators and suppliers and other companies related to our business. Although my operational level experiences are almost only from Finland, I’m sure that we could give profitable advices to all gambling companies globally. Let me know if you are keen on having cooperation with me/us. You could contact me via LinkedIn or send me email to: jarivahanen65@gmail.com !

THE FUTURE OF HORSE BETTING IN NORWAY

I’m deep expert on horse betting and I understand horse punters very well, because I’m one of them! I believe that horse betting customers are thinking about the same way globally and that’s why I’m ready to share my knowledge from Finland and try to give views and advices to other markets. But, to be honest, I’m not 100 % sure if I could give good advices for example for Norwegian decision makers, but I’ll try to do it.

There is monopoly-based gambling legislation in Norway. Norsk Tipping is the big state-owned lottery company which is taking care of lottery products, VLTs and sports betting but not horse betting. There is another company (foundation) called Rikstoto which has monopoly for horse betting. Rikstoto is owned by horse racing associations and the profit is going to that industry.

Rikstoto managed extremely well about ten years ago when there were lots of restrictions for the development of Norsk Tipping. The sales of horse betting increased from the level of 250 M€/year to the level of 350 M€ in few years. They almost reached 400 M€ in 2012 and again in 2017. But now Rikstoto has faced big challenges and they have gone down to 350 M€ level and their future doesn’t look like very promising.

Horse betting seems to have global challenges to compete against other gambling areas. There are just few countries where horse betting is still developing well, but mainly that business is suffering quite a lot. I think that the main problem is actually inside the sport, horse racing, and not so much inside the horse betting. When horse racing is not ready to make big changes, they can’t expect good results in the future. Actually, in many cases they are expecting those results which are unrealistic ones…

I don’t know well enough which are the main problems in the Norwegian horse racing and that’s why I’m not able to give advices to that. But I have some ideas what the main challenges in horse betting might be and I’ll tell my views about that. I know that it’s illogical compared to what I just wrote in previous paragraph where I told that the main problems are inside horse racing not in horse betting, but don’t concentrate on that logic too much now.

Rikstoto is using more and more the Swedish horse racing in their horse betting. They are commingling with ATG daily and the role of Norwegian horse racing in horse betting has decreased rapidly. They have reduced the number of Norwegian horse racing events. In principle that’s not bad, but the way how they have done that is not good at all. There are nowadays many days without horse racing event in Norway. Maybe the biggest challenge is that they have taken away some big Saturday races. I know that the reason for that has been to raise the price money in the other races, but from customer/horse punter point of view it is not good solution.

Those Swedish races with bigger turnover and jackpot level are good for the most active horse punters like me. It’s not big problem for active customers to get information from Sweden and it’s easy to follow those races too. Big turnover and higher jackpot make horse betting even more attractive for active horse punters. BUT what that development has meant for normal, not so active, customers and for potential new-comers? The mass media is not following horse racing as much as they used to do before, because from their perspective there is no reason to report on the Swedish races. Local big events would get more publicity at least in local media and that might interest not so active customers too.

One of the key issues is to understand that the needs of customers are not same! It might be a good solution in the short term to concentrate on serving active customer, because they are bringing the most of the money, but that development might cause big challenges in long term. How you will get new customers and activate your average customers? The motivations of horse betting are probably totally different to them than to active horse punters.

Norway seems to take responsible gaming really seriously and due to that they have already introduced the maximum loss limit for the customers of Norsk Tipping. That 2000 €/month limit is high limit for “normal customers”, but it’s low limit for active sports and horse punters. There is a plan to introduce that limit for the customers of Rikstoto too. It was supposed to be there already from the beginning of this year, but now they have postponed that max 2 years. As far as I know the most of Rikstoto’s sale is coming from quite small group of customers. Due to that the max loss limit would be dramatical from business results point of view. The research company Oslo Economics has estimated that due to common development + that new max loss limit the total horse betting market in Norway might fall 27 % by 2026. I think that this is very optimistic scenario. I would make a bet that it will drop much more!

I’m not saying that this maximum loss limit is bad idea. It’s good solution from the responsible gaming point of view, if regulator could control all gambling – also offshore operations. Norway is trying to keep monopoly-based gambling solutions and that’s why they are doing all needed to maintain that situation. They have introduced internet and payment blockings and are planning to introduce even tighter version of that. It’s logical that they have decided that max loss limit, when the prevention of gambling problems is the main reason to maintain monopoly-based solution. The potential next new feature in the maintenance of gambling monopoly is the merger of Norsk Tipping and Rikstoto. If that will happen, then there would be just one gambling monopoly in Norway.

In that case the max loss limit will effect on horse betting much more than in current situation, because as far as I have understood the max loss limit would be still 2000 € and that would cover all gambling. If there are two separate companies, the max loss limit will be per company. I’m sure that maximum loss limit will cause problems to keep active punters as customers of Norwegian company. There is big risk that those active horse punters will continue to play big amounts and they will find out ways to do that directly to ATG. Actually, that is also the problem when we are talking about blockings. It’s easy to avoid internet blocking and quite easy to avoid payment blocking. Those are good prevention tools for normal customers but don’t work for active customers. So, blocking works among customers who are not using lots of money and don’t work among customers who state is willing to control.

I have already written about our experiences from that kind of merger here in Finland. I would shortly say that the results haven’t been as good as we expected them to be. There are many reasons for that, but is there anything what Norway could learn from our experiences? In big picture that kind of merger would help regulator to control total gambling. It would also reduce competition between existing two companies and that would reduce marketing and gambling at least a little bit. In the best case the merger would help to reduce the cost level, but it will happen in long term. In short term it might even increase the costs due to mainly IT-costs. I would say that the merger of Norsk Tipping and Rikstoto would be good solution if Norway is mainly thinking about responsible gaming.

What that kind of merger would mean for horse betting and horse racing? Here in Finland it has meant decrease of horse betting (about -5 %/year) but more money for horse racing industry (about + 15 % compared to 2016) – in short term at least. We have noticed that horse betting can’t compete against modern type of new games like live betting and online casino games. When all games are in one company, the company can’t pay any extra attention to one specific game group. I don’t believe that it’s possible to get so many new horse betting customers if they are not interested in horse racing. It should be horse racing industry, mainly racetracks, who should concentrate on marketing.

The Finnish parliament decided that the money for horse racing and breeding industry is based on the total revenue of Veikkaus. Horse industry gets 4 % of our total revenue and it has nothing to do with the turnover and profit of horse betting anymore. I don’t like that model, because nowadays there is no motivation for racetracks to think about horse betting. We recognized that risk before the merger but failed despite of recognition. If it would be legally possible, I would develop the “mixed model” where the money for horse industry would come partly from the total profit and partly from horse betting. I think that Norway should try to introduce that kind of model if they will do that big merger. The State of Norway should spend enough time for discussion with horse racing industry to make model which horsemen could really support. Otherwise they will have “some” difficulties ahead.

It’s always dangerous if you decide something without any analysis. When the state is considering changing the gambling legislation, they should analyze all potential alternatives. Hopefully the Norwegian state would also think about license-based model. Of course it’s ok to continue with monopoly if the decision is based on professional analysis. The decision makers should set up goals what they are trying to reach by legal changes and then analyze what different solutions would mean from those perspectives and select the best model for that whatever it will be. It’s stupid to drop some alternative away due to “feeling” reason.

Although I haven’t made any serious analysis of the Norwegian gambling market, I would guess that from the financial point of view the best model for horse racing industry could be license-based model. Of course there are many features which will effect on that – like how good negotiators they are.

CONSOLIDATION OF GAMBLING BUSINESS

I’m used to say that I’m working in lottery business and/or in sports betting business. After our big merger I have used gambling business which includes also casino business. I have noticed that quite many lottery experts use word “gaming” instead of “gambling” but to me gaming is mainly casual and social games – not real money games which we are offering. I know that the reputation of word “gaming” is much softer than “gambling” but that’s not the core issue.

In which business we are working? That’s still relevant question! But the reason for that is not those words gaming and gambling. It’s important question because we have to know what our core business is, and we should know who our competitors are. We are used to think that other gambling companies are those competitors and they still are, but nowadays there are many other companies too. I would say that we are part of the entertainment business! That has been obvious for physical casinos already long time, but I’m not sure about lotteries and sports & horse betting companies.

I have said this many time before but I say it again: the most important feature for success is to understand your customers and their needs! You could serve them much better if you know their real motivations for buying your games. That motivation is not always the same and could vary from time to time. I believe that the main motivations for gambling are dreaming, spending free time and following sports.

We have already noticed that some quite big companies which are used to operate in other businesses have entered to gambling business. The first change happened when gambling technology suppliers moved to operation side. Those companies were used to operate games on behalf of lottery operators for example in US market. Probably technology suppliers noticed that there were bigger profit opportunities available if they have gambling licenses by themselves. Anyhow they have managed to get gambling licenses from some countries, but at the same time they are still taking care of their core business and selling tech for gambling companies. So, those companies have moved to gambling business but haven’t left their original business. That has caused slightly difficult situation for gambling companies when their technology partner is their potential competitors.

As I already said, we are competing in the entertainment market and traditional entertainment companies have realized that too. I know that big media companies are considering how they should react on gambling business. Especially the opening of sports betting in US has put more speed on that kind of analyzes. I wonder if there is any media company which have TV-rights for sports which is not planning their strategy for sports betting? I’m not saying that those TV-companies should move to gambling operations, but they should understand how they could utilize their rights in sports betting business. The entrance of big media companies will affect on gambling business a lot because those companies have lots of customers and they understand their needs. It’s always easier from customer point of view if you could get all services from one place.

Third and the most important and interesting “newcomer” would be GAFA companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook & Apple). Those giant companies have based their business models on customer data and in principle they could run whatever business with that excellent capability. I don’t have any “inside information” how actively those GAFA companies are in gambling area, but I would be surprised if they haven’t made any survey around that business area. If they, or just one of them, would enter to gambling business, it would mean dramatical change. To be honest, I’m not sure how well current gambling companies would succeed against them. I would say that we should hope that they won’t come or at least won’t act as operators! Probably they are not willing to take the risk of losing their brand when the reputation of gambling business is not so high…

That consolidation would also mean something else than just new companies entering to our business. We have already noticed that some gambling companies have started other businesses than just gambling. We have example even from lotteries where some big companies have moved partly to technology direction. For example FDJ from France and Camelot from UK have invested quite a lot to technology development and are nowadays trying to sell their solution to other operators. Some other lotteries like SISAL (Italy) and SAZKA (Czech) have tried to utilize their gambling solutions in other business areas like selling different kind of tickets and give payment services. I know that many gambling companies are looking for solutions where they could link gambling and casual games and offer something totally new which wouldn’t be gambling as we have used to define it. I believe that we shall see consolidation even more in near future.

I think that consolidation of different businesses would happen and succeed if there are possibilities to utilize your current competences somewhere else than you are used to do. If you have lots of information and understanding about your customers, you could use that almost in all possible business areas and that’s the main reason why those GAFA companies have managed so well. It’s much more difficult to enter in totally new area where you don’t have any expertise, capability or assets. That might be possible for start-ups, but for big existing companies it would be stupid risk. You should understand where your strengths are and try to find out new ideas where you could utilize them!