Personalization makes everyone happy

I have written this text for the Lottery Daily, and Conor Porter has partly modified it.

Personalization is a rising trend in the digital business. The first personalized services were built up already some 20 years ago, and a breakthrough was a matter of time. It took much more time than expected, but finally, personalization did it. The importance of personalization is here to stay, and it’s increasing rapidly in all businesses for the moment.

As competition between companies gets tougher, personalization provides an opportunity to stand out from the rest. In most businesses, those companies that stand out somehow from the others succeed. In the gambling and lottery business, personalization is the perfect tool to do things differently than other companies.

Although the first attempts with personalization were made a couple of decades ago, those were not successful. The number of contents and services was not at the level where a real personalized customer experience could be offered. There were maybe just a few possible outcomes, and that didn’t fulfill the needs of customers.

During the last 20 years, the amount of content and different possible services has exploded, and a real personalized customer experience can be offered. The critical point to make it happen has been the rapid development of AI solutions.

Using AI makes it possible to find the best-estimated contents and offerings to known customers. AI is an excellent tool because it can learn from its own mistakes and improve the given customer experience step by step.

Many lotteries and gambling companies have written their strategies to offer the best customer experience in the market. If this means that every customer has the same services offered in the same way for all, the result can’t be the best customer experience in the market. The same thing can’t work with different kinds of customers.

To offer the markets’ best customer experience, the lottery has to personalize its services to customers and create a unique feeling for the customers. Personalization means something that makes the difference between bulk and luxurious customer experiences.

While the lottery’s basic products are very bulk overall, the offering should not be like that at all. There can be a massive difference in how you offer products and what additional features and services are available. You do not have to sell the same product to all customers.

Personalization is an essential part of an excellent customer experience. The lottery must have a 360 degrees view of its customers to serve them as well as possible.

One way to do it is continuous experience throughout the customer journey. A useful 5A model has been developed to describe customer journey in practice: Awareness, Acquisition, Adoption, Assimilation,and Advocacy.

In every step, customer experience must be good enough to take the next step. There are no better customers in modern business than those who recommend using the company’s product and services to friends. This kind of customer is reachable only after a successful customer journey.

The first step of the customer journey is Awareness. In this phase, a person is identified as a potential customer for the company. Most people search for as much information as possible about available products and services. That information should be available and present to the prospect in the way the customer wants to get it.

The second step is the Acquisition. The prospective customer has become closer to the company and actively considers starting to buy products or services. The company is responsible for supporting the prospect’s thinking and turning him to make the first buy.

The third step is Adoption. The customer has started to buy products or services and gains immediate success and value. At this stage, there are plenty of opportunities for the company to make the patron’s experience so unique that they will continue their journey to the next level.

The fourth step is Assimilation. The customer starts to buy products and services frequently. They may add several products and services to their repertory and begin to feel that the use of products and services is like his second nature. The consumer doesn’t even think to stop using the company’s products and services anymore.

The last step is Advocacy. In this phase, the customer is so committed to the company that they recommend it to friends and followers on social media.

The best lotteries are already doing personalization, and the results have been good. Personalization depends pretty much on the data available. Unsurprisingly, in a data-driven business, excellent companies have also made the best use of personalization and enabled a reasonable customer journey into deeper customer relationships.

However, lotteries can’t focus only on the very business-oriented 5A model described above due to their specific business. Lotteries must take into account the maintenance and promotion of responsible gaming. At its best, responsibility creates a framework within which lotteries can then offer their customers personalized service.

In theory, companies can offer a fully personalized service to each of their customers. However, I’m not entirely convinced that this is worth doing in the lottery business, where the number of patrons is enormous.

Instead, lotteries should initially focus on identifying different customer groups within which the motives for gambling and interests are sufficiently similar. These customer groups can then be offered a differentiated service to increase sales. Clear, measurable targets need to be set for customer groups monitored based on continually accumulating data. Procedures and content must be continuously changed based on available sales and customer data.

It is also important to understand that people move between different customer groups. Policies must therefore be flexible, adaptable, and cost-effective. At its best, personalization brings joy to both the lottery and its consumers in particular.

Does the proposed Finnish gambling legislation make sense or not?

I have written this column for http://www.lotterydaily.com (published February, 1st), and Conor Porter has partly modified the text.

The Ministry of the Interior Affairs has published a proposal for Finland’s new gambling legislation early in January.

The preparatory work done by the officials lasted for almost one year. I think that they did a great job, as Covid-19 certainly made the process significantly more complicated and, nevertheless, the work was done on schedule. The outcome of the work was also excellent given the assignment of the task. Officials are not responsible for the fact that the political mandate of the work was anything but sensible.

The aim of Finland’s current Government Program is to secure Veikkaus’ monopoly and operating conditions. In addition to this, the objective is to combat gambling problems and to channel gambling to Veikkaus’ responsible and controlled offering.

The Government Program also states that other gambling companies’ marketing will be addressed, and ways will be sought to restrict gambling to other gambling operators’ sites.

Based on the gambling policy guidelines mentioned above set out in the Government Program, the Ministry of the Interior Affairs set up a working group in early 2020 to prepare the guidelines for Finland’s new gambling legislation. The starting point for the legal reform was that the Finnish gambling system would continue to be based on a monopoly system.

Therefore, the working group did not have the opportunity to carry out such proper preparatory work as analyzed and sought the best possible solution as a basis for the Finnish gambling system. The mandate stated unequivocally that the preparation should be based on a monopoly model. Therefore, well-functioning licence-based models in other countries were not even studied.

I have stated on many occasions that I am always, in principle, objected to monopolies. On the other hand, during my Veikkaus-years, I’ve understood that there are business areas where competition should be limited. Gambling is definitely an activity that states must regulate because of potential problems.

However, this does not mean that a monopoly is automatically the best solution for restricting operations. It is lousy preparation if not all possible sensible alternatives are analyzed, but one of the essential things is decided without examining them. On what grounds can the Finnish Government claim that, in preparing the matter, it has promoted the interests of its citizens in the best possible way by prohibiting the examination of possible better alternatives?

As a whole, the proposal for new gambling legislation is a huge disappointment. Maybe I expected too much when I hoped to see things change. Now I feel that just a few changes are promised, and they are taking some things in the wrong direction. Hopefully, even concerning the gambling problems, there are developments in the right direction. But I am not sure about it.

The number of gambling problems in Finland has changed incomprehensibly little during the 21st century compared to the fact that gambling has increased significantly. The share of Finns suffering from gambling problems has been at the level of about 3% from year to year.

Instead, the number of people suffering from serious gambling problems has increased somewhat, and I hope that the new legislation will help this unfortunate development. I will return to this topic shortly after commenting on the policies made on physical slot machines.

The Finnish gambling policy’s core problem has been the discrepancy between business profit expectations and the responsibility requirements set at the same time. The Finnish state has not been able to decide which issue it considers more important. Therefore Veikkaus, the monopoly operator, has had challenges in understanding what the owner wants from it.

Revenue expectations have been high, but at the same time, instruments to respond to competition have not been allowed to be used. It now seems evident that responsibility has gained and is gaining more weight. On the positive side, the choice has finally been made, but I think it is far too late and no longer enough to save the situation. Now there is a significant risk that the gambling problems will not develop in the desired direction. At the same time, gambling profits will collapse, and above all, Veikkaus will permanently lose its future competitiveness.

Mandatory identification for gambling is coming, which is now introduced a few weeks ago in physical slot machines. The requirement to register for other gambling products will take effect over a few years. It is a good reform in terms of responsible gambling, but it is also a reform that will significantly impact the decrease in gambling revenue. The potential positive impact of identified gambling on business is based on the utilization of customer data.

However, it seems that Veikkaus’ ability to use data as a modern business company will be restricted or even denied. This shows that decision-makers have no understanding of what can be done with customer data. Using it is not automatically the same thing as adding gambling problems. It seems that the Finnish state no longer even wants Veikkaus to operate a profitable business anymore, but at most just put its products on offer, as was the case in the 1980s. I’m sorry on behalf of Veikkaus’ knowledgeable and skillful employees because they do not get to do the job properly.

There have been significant changes in slot machine operations over the past year. Veikkaus voluntarily decided to reduce the number of those machines a lot. However, the number of slot machine locations did not decrease in almost the same proportion. The change that has now come into force, making slot machine play only possible for registered customers, is a good thing. The explanatory memorandum to the new law states that slot machines’ placement should aim for solutions that minimize the gambling problems.

However, many would like to see slot machines removed from public open spaces, but that is not the case. I have never understood why slot machines can be kept in entirely open spaces in Finland. Slot machines are an integral part of gambling, but I think the machines’ correct location would be mainly in arcades and other age-restricted areas, following the Danish model. However, this is not the case in Finland, even after the new gambling legislation.

One of the most positive reforms of the proposed legislation is the clarification of the marketing of gambling. The premise is that marketing should be moderate and channel gambling to games that don’t cause so many problems. The weakness of the current legislation in force has been the definition of marketing and product information provision.

Several years ago, I was among those who planned the current gambling marketing policies, and I am ready to raise my hand and admit a mistake (as in basketball). I am glad that from the new legislation, the possibility to share product information is removed. Appropriate legislation should contain as few interpretations as possible, and the situation now seems to be improving.

The introduction of payment blocking will cause my blood pressure to rise. It could be the best solution for everyone, that I advise you to read a blog written by Aki Pyysing on the subject (https://www.sijoitustieto.fi/sijoitusartikkelit/viisikko-blokkaa-pelkasta-rajoittamisen-ilosta – unfortunately only in Finnish). However, it is enough to say that this reform makes no sense.

The reform’s economic impact is entirely non-existent, and this will not reduce gambling problems, so why is such nonsense done? In light of Norway’s experience, the blockings may restrict banks and major payment companies’ activities. Still, they will be replaced very soon by new service providers beyond the control.

Personally, the most exciting reform proposal is the opportunity for Veikkaus, or its subsidiary, to start a new type of business. I was the CEO of that kind of subsidiary, Veikkaus Solutions Ltd, and most recently, my job in Veikkaus was to prepare for re-starting a new business. Now it seems that Veikkaus would again have the opportunity to establish a subsidiary for non-gambling activities. The intention is for the subsidiary to provide gambling products and services to other operators and not engage in consumer gambling activities.

This is an excellent thing in the long run. Sales contracts for gambling products and services today are based almost exclusively on the revenue share model. The compensation received by the selling company is based on how much the customers of the buying company end up buying those products.

Hopefully, the Finnish authorities will not interpret such sales for gambling purposes. A massive opportunity for Veikkaus, which is still one of the best lotteries globally, would be to start international B2C gambling operations. Selling gambling products directly to customers in other countries would generate significantly more revenue than trading among gambling companies. However, B2C operations are not possible under the Finnish monopoly system. It would have been one additional primary reason for moving to a license-based system.

In conclusion, the answer to my question in the title is NOT. This reform, as a whole, makes no sense. I consider it a much better option to omit this proposed change altogether and move on to the licence-based system’s preparation. The rationale for the licence-based model would be worth its own separate column.

Lotteries must concentrate on customer experience management

I have written this text for www.LotteryDaily.com and it is partly modified by Conor Porter.

Customer experience management has been an increasing trend among companies in the consumer business. Modern business companies focus on producing and developing the customer experience. The lottery business needs to recognize itself as a part of the gambling and even entertainment business, where they face heavy competition despite the nominal monopoly.

Excellent customer experience should help lottery to stand out from its competitors. I think there are still lotteries that do not feel involved in a competitive market. These companies certainly do not improve the customer experience, at least not to achieve a better business result. However, managing the customer experience also helps increase operational responsibility, which all lotteries should strive for.

Customers are different. That is why we shouldn’t show everyone the same content.

Personal content requires automation. Improving the transaction experience requires responding to an individual customer’s need: digital store and messaging should strive to show the customer the content he is likely to be looking for. Manually targeting customer-specific content (product, service, or benefit) is impossible. It is ineffective by human-made rules and quickly becomes uncontrollably complex. We should target content with learning automation.

Companies need a different kind of information and understanding about customers at strategy and operational levels. In the past, companies used the same socio-economic customer data at all levels, and therefore the results were not particularly good. Of course, that model proved better than working without any customer information.

Anyhow, now the situation is much better. Tools like segmentation, customer lifetime value, and RFM-models are used to improve customer experience, or at least to measure results from actions targeted to improve customer experience.

We have identified three key things that need to be in good shape to improve the customer experience. Lotteries need to know their customers, have the capability to measure results from actions, and test a lot of different ideas. Those ideas with positive impact should continue, and you could throw the rest away.

The key is to understand that the customer experience depends on many different things and improvement is only possible step by step. Progress is made by making better solutions for customers one thing at a time.

The digital sale of advanced lotteries includes at least analytically driven digital marketing, customer communication, game and service targeting, and service design. The model focuses on creating an efficient and measurable approach to develop overall customer relationships through shared data, personalization, and automation.

Machine learning guides what should be offered to the customer next. It would help if you used a learning algorithm that organizes digital channels’ search functions to find the customer’s most interesting content. When a customer finds content that interests him, the customer experience improves, and loyalty increases. The web pages and mobile applications layouts are based on a modular structure, supporting continuous content optimization for a single customer.

Digital marketing is a modern way to do marketing, but you should have marketing permission in some areas. The push message is suitable for gambling through applications, which has a fast response time and serves as a ‘last-minute’ reminder when the content needs to be specific and short.

Automated triggers and manual marketing campaigns, based on marketing permissions, are useful tools. Customer communication is targeted based on customer’s gambling behavior: e.g. games played, games last played, channel, responsible gaming aspects/risk players, and geographical elements. The other methods are permission and order-based communication. Order based service messages are messages which customers can decide to receive.

A broad and competitive product range is the lifeblood of success because it cannot differ significantly from what the other operators have. Customer experience is, thus, the most important means of differentiation.

The level of ambition of the digital transaction experience should contain world-class usability in online and mobile service, the cross-channel and innovative game and service offering, the most personalized data-driven holistic transaction experience, and the best gaming management tools.

The loyalty program is an essential part of the lottery’s business strategy. It can be used to emphasize the importance of customer relationships and improve customer engagement with the lottery. Loyalty programs could also increase responsible identified playing. It should be available for the points of sale network too. Typical ways to use it are website or by mobile phone and tablet device and also physical card.

Lotteries should offer a good customer experience and high consumer protection. Restrictions and tools proposed must not compromise the customer experience. Restrictions, blocking, and management services should be a natural and easy part of gambling.

Restrictions should not lead to a customer experience where the customer feels that he is facing too much patronage, but to a situation where the customer is facing excellent and caring customer service. The customer must be informed of the game restrictions so clearly that he understands what he is restricting and what conditions he will face.

Critics think that lotteries should not use customer information and tools to improve the customer experience and, thus, business performance. They believe that such activity will cause gambling problems automatically.

However, I think a lottery’s role is to channel customer’s gaming into their offerings. Society should impose general restrictions on the operation of lotteries, within which companies can then strive to provide a safe and optimal customer experience. Seeking business results should not automatically mean increasing gambling problems.

Customer experience will be one of the most developing areas in the future. Lotteries need to understand that customers want a personal customer experience that follows them no matter what sales channels they use. Of course, understanding alone is not enough; lotteries need to provide players with such a customer experience.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

I have written this text for www.LotteryDaily.com  and it is partly modified by Conor Porter.

The biggest competitive edge for lotteries in the gambling business has always been the ability to offer the highest jackpot in the market. This is still the case despite consolidation of the gambling business.

Former casino and sports betting operators have developed new products with high jackpots and have even entered the lottery business with the so-called “lottery betting” product.

Throughout history, lotteries have tried to increase the size of their lottery jackpots. As I have already mentioned in my previous columns, companies must know their customers and understand the motivations for gambling also among potential customers. The motivations for gambling and playing lottery games could vary a lot. It is partly up to customers’ socioeconomic background, but there are also many other reasons.

It is easy to notice from data that huge lottery jackpots increase sales a lot: the bigger jackpot, the bigger sales numbers, and profits for the lottery. Lotteries have done surveys among their customers and have found out the same result – the biggest motivation for buying a lottery ticket is to dream about something big. Although €1m would be enough for most customers, €100m would be even better for them.

We already have huge jackpots!

It is not clear what a big jackpot is. A million euros is a huge amount of money for someone, but someone else might think it should be 10 or even 100 times more. It is often irrational thinking. A person with thousands of euros may think that Lotto is not worth playing when the grand prize is only a few million euros, even if it could change his whole life.

European and US lotteries offer the biggest lottery jackpots. We have two separate coalitions in Europe, which are organizing the biggest lottery games; the EuroMillions and the Eurojackpot. Both of those groups have decided to limit the maximum size of lottery jackpots. The maximum jackpot in EuroMillions is €190m, and in Eurojackpot, it is €90m. Those amounts are also the top prizes ever paid out from those games, and they’ve been paid out quite often.

US lotteries have also established two separate groups which are organizing the high prize lottery game, Mega Millions and Powerball, which offer the highest jackpot in global gambling. US lotteries are using the so-called annuity amount in their marketing, which describes the jackpot’s potential size if the winner doesn’t take the prize immediately but rather for many years.

The highest US jackpot has been in Powerball, where three winners shared a $1586m jackpot. That’s bigger than the largest jackpot awarded in Mega Millions where one customer won $1537m, the highest amount of money a single customer has ever won anywhere.

All of those four games have increased the sale of lottery games, and it seems that huge jackpots have helped lotteries to do better business. However, those mega jackpots have also caused some problems.

When customers have noticed that it is possible to win €90m in the Eurojackpot, the jackpot size of the local Lotto game is not so attractive anymore, even though €10m would be a huge amount of money to win. This has caused quite a big cannibalization from local Lotto games to those multi-state jackpot lotteries.

The other challenge which especially US lotteries have noticed is the inflation of jackpot size. There have been about 50 times when someone has already won over $300m either in Mega Millions or Powerball games. According to the US lottery experts I have listened to in lottery seminars, the sale will increase remarkably only when the jackpot is over $250m. For example, a $200m jackpot doesn’t have any serious effect on lottery sales. That sounds crazy to me!

Is it still possible to have even higher jackpots?

None of the lotteries could, in practice, offer those huge jackpots alone. Collaboration is the tool for that. It would be possible to offer even higher jackpots in those European games, but they have decided by themselves that there are maximum top prizes in both EuroMillions and Eurojackpot. They could decide by themselves if they would like to change that and remove the maximum limit. Of course, regulators might have opinions about that.

Removement of the maximum prize limit could help a little bit in Europe, but it won’t raise those games to the next level. If European lotteries would like to do that, the best solution would be the collaboration between EuroMillions and Eurojackpot groups. Together, they could go to the next level, as it might be possible to offer lottery products where the jackpot could be €300m-€500m or even higher.

US lotteries have similar opportunities in their markets. The next step after the mergers of those European and US coalitions could be the collaboration between Europe and the US. That kind of partnership could raise the theoretical jackpots to billions of euros/dollars. The next step after that could be ‘World Lotto’…

I’m not sure if I would like to see that kind of development or not. I’m not sure what is enough for the customers and what that kind of development would be for lotteries in the long term. Lotteries shouldn’t voluntarily give their biggest competitive edge away. Lotteries have traditionally been able to offer much higher jackpots than other gambling companies.

However, the market has changed quite a lot in recent years as Lottoland and other similar companies have entered the market. Those Lotto betting operators can offer the same jackpots as the original lotteries. On top of all that, those companies can take advantage of the lotteries’ game brands and offer all different huge jackpot products in one place.

Lotteries still have pole position in that competition because customers are used to getting the highest potential main prizes from lottery games. Lotteries shouldn’t give that position away!

LOTTERIES SHOULD BE MORE RESPONSIBLE OPERATORS

I have wrote this column for www.lotterydaily.com and they have published it few days. This text is partly edited by Chris Murphy – thanks to him about that!

There seems to be a general perception among lottery companies that the lottery business is fundamentally a responsible activity and, in every way, better than any other gambling business. 

If you only thought of gambling products, then slow-rhythm lottery games are certainly less problematic for players than, for example, casino games or fast sports betting (live). However, it is always dangerous to think that one is, in principle, better than the other, because then the risk is to be blind to one’s own operations. Furthermore, most lotteries today offer more than just traditional draw-based and instant games.

In practice all EU countries still have a monopoly system for lottery games. According to the European Court of Justice, Member States are free to decide on their gambling systems, as long as they respect the principles of legitimacy and are consistent in their actions. 

An important justification principle is the prevention of gambling problems which can be summarized into two groups – gambling problems caused to the player and gambling-related crime. For this reason, it is important that the prevention of gambling problems and thus responsible gaming also be given great weight in lottery activities. If anyone thinks this does not apply to lottery games, it would be interesting to hear why there is monopoly in that area…

How should the prevention of gambling crime be taken into account in lottery activities? In general, gambling involves the risk of two types of crime – the manipulation of the results and money laundering. Manipulating the results is not easy in traditional draw-based and instant games, but it has managed to happen sometimes. 

Manipulation of results is a particularly big problem in sports betting, which is also practiced by lotteries. The risk of money laundering is also higher in casino and sports games with high payback rates than in lottery games with lower payout percentages. But at least in theory money laundering can take place in all gambling activities and its prevention should be managed as well as possible. Lottery companies that run sports games have invested heavily in crime prevention through their involvement in the GLMS (Global Lottery Monitoring System).

Crime prevention is particularly important for the gambling business in terms of the reliability and reputation of its operations. If customers cannot trust the correctness of operations, there is not a very bright future in the industry. In this respect lotteries are very much in the same boat as private gambling operators. It is quite insane to think that the problem would not also apply to lottery companies if the general acceptability of gambling starts to fall even more than it currently does.

While the prevention of gambling-related crime is especially important, the prevention of gambling problems itself is even more important. Just one person with a gambling problem is one too many and companies need to do everything they can to keep the number of problems under control and even reduce it. It is unrealistic to think that gambling should be banned altogether, but states still have opportunities and, in fact, an obligation to regulate this fundamentally risky activity.

Gambling today is often compared to tobacco and alcohol, which also cause problems. Personally, I don’t like those comparisons, but I somehow understand the comparison to alcohol-related restrictions. I think tobacco causes more or less problems for all users, which gambling does not. 

Alcohol is closer in that sense because only a small percentage of alcohol users experience significant problems. Gambling is a relatively safe activity for 90-95% of customers. On the other hand, gambling causes awfully bad problems for about 1% of players and some problems for a much larger number of customers. I think it’s the responsibility of gambling companies, including lotteries, to do their best to keep those customers who are experiencing problems from getting into bad trouble.

Studies have shown that traditional lottery games don’t cause gambling problems almost at all and this may still have the wrong effect on the attitudes of the lottery world. Companies are accustomed to a situation where they may have blamed other gambling companies, usually casino operators, for the problems. 

However, in the 21st century, Lottery operations have changed with the digitization of new products and operations, so that gambling problems will certainly arise for lottery customers as well. Therefore, all companies must have tools in place to identify and prevent problems.

What should companies do? It must be possible to monitor and address customers’ gambling, either with restrictions or, in extreme cases, with bans. Gambling monitoring requires digitizing operations and making gambling possible only for identified customers.

There is no way to interfere with gambling anonymously, and there is not even enough information about it. Lottery companies must therefore build technical systems to transfer all gambling to identified gambling. This may sound like a completely impossible plan to most, but it is not. Just ask for advice from Norsk Tipping, which already did this years ago!

Mere recognized gambling alone is not enough. Recognized gambling is a prerequisite for restricting gambling activities. There must be limits to gambling that must be practically controllable. The Norsk Tipping scenario involves maximum loss limits for gambling. Personally, I am not in favor of uniform limits for all, because people’s income and wealth levels vary a lot. 

In addition, some people are, in principle, at greater risk of suffering from gambling problems than others. Due to these factors, I consider the best solution to be the possibility to change the general limits set by the company on the basis of substantiated information. 

If a player is able to prove his wealth and wants to raise the limits of the gambling, he/she should be given the opportunity to do so. Likewise, even low overall limits may be too high for some players. I have noticed that at least in Sweden and the UK, there has already been discussion of a player-specific affordability check model.

I am quite sure that gambling regulators in different countries will tighten their control of operations and to set the gambling companies increasingly more accountability requirements. This will certainly apply to lotteries as well. In many ways, it would be best for companies to act on their own initiative and not just under duress. 

Companies should prepare models in collaboration with or at least by listening to gambling problem researchers and possibly also in consultation / cooperation with the authorities. Implementing the changes will require a lot of resources, but hopefully it will save the gambling industry’s reputation!

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM NORWAY’S GAMBLING MONOPOLY?

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

The Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have quite similar systems and legislation in many areas. That has been the case also in gambling business until the beginning of 2010’s when Denmark decided to move from a monopoly to a license-based system in 2011. 

Sweden decided to follow that from the beginning of 2019. Finland and Norway still have gambling monopolies in all gambling areas, and they are by the way the only European countries that still have that kind of legislative situation. 

It begs the question; why are those well-developed, innovative countries still trying to keep a monopoly-based system? Furthermore, is there anything we could learn from them? 

For the purposes of this particular column I’ll concentrate solely on Norway and return to covering developments in my home country after some months. As you know, in practice all European countries have a monopoly-based system in lottery games but not in sports betting. And most countries have never even had a monopoly in the casino business. But Norway has a monopoly in all gambling areas and physical casinos are totally forbidden. 

The question is, has that kind of model worked well? The size of gambling business in Norway is big. There are about 5.4 million inhabitants in the country and the total GGR of gambling business in 2019 was M€1.244. Almost half of GGR came from digital channels. 

Gambling acceptable among Norwegians

Although there is a monopoly, the share of offshore operators is big – according to H2GC it is 27%. Gambling is common and acceptable among Norwegians. According to surveys almost 2/3 of adults used to play some gambling products at least once a year.

The previous government was keen on liberalization and it seriously investigated a number of other possible legislative models for the Norwegian gambling business. In 2015 it opened up the lottery business by a fraction by issuing supplementary lottery licenses for five small operators. Those licenses are still valid, but the operational possibilities are extremely limited. 

It seemed that Norway would move to a license-based system at the same time as Sweden, but in summer 2017 the government decided to continue the monopoly system. The system is not as the monopoly we have in Finland because there are two operators, Norsk Tipping and Rikstoto, and small lotteries plus bingo halls, but in principle it is still a monopoly.

Norway has run and controlled monopoly-based gambling seriously. The prevention of gambling problems has been the main purpose, relegating profit to just a secondary element. The country has enough money anyhow and there has been no need to maximize gambling revenues at all. 

There are lots of restrictions for gambling in Norway. Mandatory identification in order to gamble has been in existence for many years and there are tight gambling/loss limits in the gambling business run by the state-owned Norsk Tipping. Norway had also tried to restrict gambling offshore with blocks in place for 10 years. 

Gambling offshore is still legal in Norway, but operators don’t have licenses to offer their services in the country and are prevented from marketing their products. To compound matters, it has become difficult to move money to those companies and get winnings back from them. 

However, preventing Norwegian players from gambling offshore has been difficult to achieve because they have become accustomed to playing with those operators. According to customer surveys many Norwegians are unaware that companies like Unibet and Betsson don’t have licenses to operate in Norway. That might explain why 27 % of gambling is still going abroad despite the official monopoly system.

I think, though, that Norway is the best example of how a country should organize its gambling business should it be monopoly-based. Its system is not an ideal one, because there is no reason to have those minor lotteries and probably they should consider merging Norsk Tipping and horse betting operator Rikstoto. 

But there are lots of good things. The state has allowed Norsk Tipping to develop its own business, enabling the state-owned lottery company to offer good products and service to its customers. It is important, however, to have the right channels in place, otherwise the legitimacy of the monopoly system will disappear. 

Norway has now introduced even lower loss limits for gambling. That has and will continue to affect the profitability of Norsk Tipping for sure. The same kind of limits are expected to be applied to horse betting too from the beginning of 2022 and that will greatly impact the GGR of Rikstoto. 

More laws proposed

Consequently, if Norway can’t better control offshore gambling there will be an inevitable migration of players in that direction. The current government knows that and has proposed more laws, for example a restriction of gambling ads on satellite channels which will limit the business of offshore companies. At the moment it seems that tighter payment blocks have managed to reduce offshore gambling a little, but according to estimates it is just a temporary remedy.

To reiterate, the main purpose of the monopoly system is to prevent gambling problems. Norway has tried to do that for a long time. Among other measures, they prohibited the huge slot machines business that was operating 15 to 20 years ago, because most gambling problems were caused by those machines. 

It is strange that although Norway has put lots of effort into the reduction of problem gambling, the results are not so good. The University of Bergen has undertaken significant new research on Norway’s gambling problems. It found that the incidence of problem gambling has increased compared to the situation in 2015. There are 3.1 % of people suffering from gambling problems (2.3 % in 2015) and 1.4% are experiencing serious problems (0.9 % in 2015). 

The number of gambling problems is now at the same level as it was before the ban on the slot machine business. The structure of gambling problems has also changed. Now almost half of the problems are coming from digital casino games. Nowadays younger customers are suffering from gambling problems than before. There are different measurement methods of gambling problems in different countries, but despite that it is obvious that the number of gambling problems is at a higher level than it is in Denmark and Sweden where they no longer have a monopoly.

Norway has strongly and consistently tried to control the social and economic disadvantages of gambling with a monopoly. It is even prepared to decrease profit levels if that would help to reduce the number of problem gamblers. I would like to award them “10 points” for that. 

Unfortunately, results show that it has still not succeeded very well. There will be more restrictions for offshore operations, but it is unclear if they will work or not. I believe that state control and regulation will always be behind business development and that’s why there is no way to totally prevent offshore gambling anymore. 

Might it be possible that the monopoly system is no longer the best tool to prevent gambling problems in the current digitalized world?

Given that a monopoly has not succeeded in combating Norway’s gambling problems, it is unlikely these measures will work in any other European country. In Norway and also here in Finland we will have a discussion sooner or later about gambling monopolies. The states must find the best balance to prevent gambling problems and offer customers the best products possible. That leaves one final question; does the monopoly system still offer the best way to achieve that?

MORE GAMES PLEASE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOTTERY INNOVATIONS – CASE LOTTOLAND

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

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

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

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

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

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