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.

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.

THERE IS NEED FOR CHANGE IN HORSE BETTING AND RACING INDUSTRY

I had possibility to participate in excellent Betting on Sports event in London two weeks ago. Among many other things I listened to panel discussion about the future of UK horse racing and betting. Although horse racing and betting in UK is not at all the same than it’s here in Scandinavia, the challenges sounded very familiar to me. I’m sure that horse racing and betting won’t succeed if they are not ready for big changes, but how big risk they are ready to take?

I have owned racing horses already 44 years (since young kid), been active horse punter almost as long time and worked many years in horse betting business. So, I believe that I have enough knowledge to make analysis about that industry. BUT there is big risk that I’m too insider and can’t see all problems we have. It would be interesting to get deep analysis from someone who is familiar with gambling and/or entertainment business but not horse betting/racing.

It seems to be global trend that people are not anymore keen on going to normal average horse racing events. The number of spectators on “Monday evening” races has reduced all over the world. Nowadays it’s so easy to watch races from TV or mainly internet and there is no reason to go to racetracks anymore. That will cause big problems in long term, because racetracks have been the best channel/place to attract new customers. Where we could reach them if they are not going to visit tracks in the future?

The situation is not so bad yet. Big horse racing events are still popular ones. There were over 70000 spectators in one day in Cheltenham Gold Day Cup (in average over 60000 per day) and we had 55000 people in Kuninkuusravit, the biggest Finnish horse racing event, in two days. So, it’s still possible to get audience to the racetracks but you should offer them something special which big events are doing. But I’m worried about would that continue and what would be enough for audience. I have examples from Sweden. I have visited in their most popular horse racing event Elitloppet already since 1978 and I think that there less audience this year than ever before. I also visited in the classical Trav Kriterium last weekend in Stockholm and there were less than 3000 spectators and Kriterium is one the main events. If that kind of high-level racing event doesn’t attract people, what we should offer? It seems to be obvious that racing is not anymore enough and you should offer more entertainment.

Horse betting is extremely big business and has managed surprisingly well although there are more and more new gambling opportunities available. According to surveys the size of global legal horse betting is about 27 billion euros (illegal market is also extremely big one) and it’s estimated to grow by 1 – 2 % in next few years. The growth rate is lower than in other gambling areas but it’s not catastrophic and that might be reason for the future problems… It is always difficult to make big changes when your business is still going rather well. You are not willing to take big risks because you are afraid of losing what you have although those changes would help you to maintain or even increase your profit level. That seems to be case now in horse racing and betting industry. Almost everybody agrees that we need structural changes, but we are not ready to change things which have worked well.

Horse betting industry has managed to move towards digital channels. Nowadays horse betting from digital channels is almost as big as betting on tracks and betting shops. In next two years digital horse betting will be bigger than retail and track betting. Here in Finland about 75 % of horse betting is already coming from digital channels. In that area horse betting is acting in modern way. Someone might say that even too modern way, because punters get better service in digital channels than they get on racetracks and there is no reason to go there anymore. Anyhow I think that the problems in horse betting are unwillingness to change racing formats and bet types. We have had same bet types (win, place, exacta…) tens of years and we are not ready to test something totally new. I’m not sure if Live betting would work in horse betting, but we should at least test it and/or try to find out another solution to offer customers more interactive betting options. There is huge amount of data available from horse racing and betting, but are we really using that to develop our product better? Do we know what kind of races are the most interesting ones from customers point of view? Do we know when punters are willing to make horse bets – when the races should start, where races should be etc.?

The core question is to whom we are developing horse racing and betting. Are we doing that for horse trainers and owners or for active horse punters or for “big audience”? The needs of those groups are very different ones and we can’t fulfill the needs of all of them. I think that horse racing and betting industry should understand where the money is coming from and try to maximize or at least optimize that revenue. Everyone in horse business would gain from higher profit. I have told that already many times in previous blogs, but I say it again: customer is the king or queen! I know that now some of readers might say that I’m too much horse betting guy and I don’t understand and appreciate horse racing and horse people. I do, but in my world we need customers and horse punters who will bring money to our business. I’m keen on hearing and understand if there are examples where the level of horse racing price money is not linked to the level of horse betting. I know that the Arab Emirates and Al Maktoum family is an exception but is there any other examples?