YOU CAN’T MAKE GOOD DECISIONS WITHOUT CORRECT DATA

I have written this blog for LotteryDaily.com and they published it few days ago. This text is partly modified by Chris Murphy.

In my previous columns I have presented my thoughts on the most important success factors of 2020’s lottery business. I have written about digitalization of the lottery business and the need for new gambling verticals to be added to product portfolios. These are topics that every self-respecting lottery should be interested in. Now I will continue my journey into a little “deeper water” with the third theme. I have noticed that many lotteries are lagging in one specific area which is data-driven management.

When I started in the gambling business almost 30 years ago, the only metrics to follow in the development of the business were turnover and the number of coupons played. Sometimes we tried to find out how many players we had through customer surveys. 

My former employer, Veikkaus, has invested a lot in collecting and analyzing business data for the long-term. I took it for granted that all other lotteries also developed or purchased similar data management systems. I have learned that this is not the case after we established in the spring with my colleague the gambling consulting company which aims to serve lottery companies. 

Unfortunately for the weakest positioned companies, the level of utilization of business data is still at the same level as we had it in Veikkaus in 1990s.

Why is it so important to gather data? I should use the term correct data because there is no sense to gather data which you can’t utilize. Gathering data is important so that we have the possibility to lead our company towards better business results. 

Many companies have written phrases “the best customer experience in the industry” or “satisfied customers” as the goal of the strategy. But how do you lead your business to reach those goals? How do you monitor the impact of your own measures on the achievement of strategic goals? If the correct business data is not collected or analyzed, management or monitoring cannot succeed.

At this point, it should be noted that unfortunately in the case of many lotteries it is not possible to collect the correct data. If the digitalization of business that I wrote about earlier in my column has not been done – the situation is bad. An estimate of a company’s ability to leverage customer data is the proportion of turnover that it generates from identified customers. You can’t run a business based on data if most of gambling happens in a way whereby you don’t know who has played those games.

Let’s look at those companies that use some sort of customer authentication and collect the data. Many companies think the situation is in order because “we have CRM systems in place”. That’s only the first step towards data-based management. The main question is whether the most important components relevant to management have been identified, and whether this data is collected comprehensively and utilized all the way to operational operations.

The world is full of great theories about management by data. It is possible that the company has developed great segmentations and customer value calculation models to support management, but they still cannot be utilized. 

In the big picture, the situation seems to be such that the base is built to a good or at least satisfactory level, but its use is deficient from the beginning and its benefits cannot be transferred to the operational level. Of course, in many cases, there are already fundamental shortcomings in the basis of the system, which makes it impossible for you to manage operational activities.  

I challenge every lottery director to look critically at their own company. Do we know our customers and business? Can we predict at an adequate level the impact of our actions and reliably measure them? Do we have the ability to steer operational activity towards a better business? If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, it is now time to take a break and think about how to get the situation fixed.

When we carry out product renewal, marketing or actually any operational activity, each operation must have defined goals. What customer segments and profiles are we aiming for? How much is the measure aimed at increasing the customer values of different groups’ accounts and how much we reach new customers? 

The numerical objectives must be clear and closely monitored. Based on what exists, you have the opportunity to learn and find and further develop more functional products and concepts. The amount of money customers spend on gambling is usually distributed among different gambling companies. 

It is extremely important for lottery operators to understand whether the euro played on a new product has previously been spent on another of their own products, games from another gambling company, or whether it is a whole new gambling spend. If sufficient data on gambling is not collected, it is not possible to make such a reasoning. 

With correct data, companies can achieve the benefits of both business and responsible gaming. With the help of data, it is possible to target offerings to the right customer groups and thereby generate more sales. On the other hand, the data can be used to better identify potential customers with gambling problems and to reduce or even stop their gambling.

I understand that getting to the optimal situation is an extremely long and challenging project. Sometimes, however, the first steps have to be taken. Without a sufficient understanding of the key data of your business, it is not possible to succeed in the fierce competition of the 2020s. The goal can be to make the data a tough and productive helper for you. The positive thing is that benchmarking information and other help is available to achieve this goal – also directly from me!

MONOPOLY – THE RIGHT SYSTEM?

I have recently analyzed a lot of different gambling systems and their real objectives and effects. Last week, my company The Finnish Gambling Consultants published a “white paper” report on the current state of the Finnish gambling system and its alternative solutions. We have got familiar with the gambling systems in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which differ quite a bit from each other and from the Finnish system. It has been interesting to note that it is possible to have different solutions to achieve similar goals. So what is the right solution? In order to answer this, you need to know what states are really aiming in the area of ​​gambling.

There have been two very interesting news from Norway about gambling business. First, the University of Bergen published an extensive study on gambling and, above all, gambling problems. According to that research, the number of gambling problems seems to have increased in Norway. The difference in research methods makes it difficult to compare the results both between different years and between different countries. Despite this, I dare say that Norway has more gambling problems than other Nordic countries. Why is this a strange result and how can it be possible?

Norway has a strict monopoly system for gambling. State-owned Norsk Tipping has the exclusive right to all other gambling products except horse betting which games are run by Rikstoto. There are some smaller companies in Norway that are licensed to run small-scale gambling, but this is not relevant in this context. The Norwegian state has imposed strict restrictions on Norsk Tipping’s operations. In Norway, it is only possible to play gambling products as an identified customer and there are strict maximum loss limits for gambling. So it seems that in Norway, the goal of the state has been to curb gambling and gambling problems, and not just to maximize the revenue from gambling.

In recent years, Norway has sought to restrict gambling for offshore gambling operators. The country has introduced a blocking of money transactions, which has made the customer’s money transactions to foreign gaming companies quite difficult. In addition, the country is making serious efforts to prevent foreign gambling companies from showing TV advertising in Norway, regardless of whether the TV channel is Norwegian or not.

Denmark and Sweden have opted for a quite different gambling system than Norway. Denmark decided to move to license-based gambling system less than 10 years ago, and Sweden followed to similar system from the beginning of 2019. In practice, only lottery and instant tickets games have remained in monopoly and other gambling verticals can be licensed. The volume of gambling has increased in both countries and players as a whole are losing more to gambling than before. Despite this, at least the number of gambling problems does not seem to have increased and the number of problems is clearly lower in both countries than in the strict monopoly country of Norway.

How can such outcome be possible? Studies show that there is a correlation between the volume of gambling and the number of gambling problems. The more you play, the more gambling problems you experience. However, studies have been conducted in situations where the actual amount of gambling has been known. This may no longer be the case in today’s digital world, where there is a large amount of gambling on offer via the internet and mobile that doesn’t show up in official gambling figures. Restricting the physical supply of games can only shift customers to the digital offerings of other operators.

It is often thought that in a monopoly system, state control is much stricter than in other systems. However, this is not self-evident. The regulator has just as good, or even better, opportunities to control gambling activities in the license model as well. An important factor is the channeling ability of the gambling system. The more the system makes gambling a legal activity in the country, the better the state control will work. At least after the change of the system, the channeling capacity of the Danish and Swedish gambling systems rose to a significantly high level and thus the operating restrictions worked better than before, with a large part of the gambling going to unregulated offshore operators.

So what should Finland learn from the experiences of the other Nordic countries? Before you can answer this, you need to know what Finland is really aiming for in the area of ​​gambling. According to the EU, a gambling monopoly system is possible if it can improve the protection of players and prevent criminal activities related to gambling. A particularly important justification for the monopoly system has been better prevention of gambling problems. It should be borne in mind that gambling revenues are not an acceptable basis for a monopoly system.

The prevention of gambling problems has gained more weight in the Finnish gambling policy and its practical implementation in recent years. The merger of gambling operators and the centralization of gambling operations in one company, Veikkaus, from the beginning of 2017 has given the regulator better tools to control the company’s operations. Veikkaus’ operations are supervised and regulated more than the three previously monopolies were supervised. This has been reflected in lower revenues from gambling operations. Unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, gambling problems have not diminished. The number of problems has been at the same level for long time. About 3% of Finnish adults suffer from gambling problems. Studies show that the number of people with serious problems is growing, which is a matter of real concern.

The operations of the monopoly company Veikkaus are thus controlled more and more, which reduces gambling through the company and thereby the state’s profit. According to research, a large part, almost all, of Veikkaus’ declining gambling is directed at other gambling companies. This way, overall gambling and gambling problems are not reduced. The regulator currently has little possibility to take action against offshore gambling companies. So something needs to be done and soon. Otherwise, the pace of development will only continue, and Finland will soon end up in the same situation as Denmark and Sweden years ago.

If the prevention and reduction of gambling problems is the primary goal, then Finland must be able to tighten control over all gambling activities, not just Veikkaus. This can happen in both a monopoly system and license-based models. The goal is to bring gambling under regulation in one way or another and then impose strict restrictions on gambling. According to results from Norway, it is not sure that monopoly would be automatically better from gambling problem point of view than license-based system.

If the goal of gambling activities is also to continue to generate revenue for the state but at the same time prevent gambling problems, the alternatives are more difficult to implement. Continuing in a completely monopoly system in this case is legally difficult to implement, at least in the way where customers would be satisfied. It seems to be obvious that license-based system would generate more money for the state than monopoly system.

I think it is particularly important that Finland now carefully considers the future of its gambling system and makes a comprehensive and neutral analysis of the matter before making a final decision! In our own report, we have described and calculated the effects of different gambling systems on gambling problems, government revenue levels, and customer experiences. We are happy to help you get a good and safe gambling system in Finland that is also good from customer point of view!

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 !