The role of the state in the gambling industry

I have written this text for http://www.ice365.com and they have partly edited it.

In this column, I will look at the activities of states in the field of gambling, though I’m well aware that each nation has its own approach and desires for legal gambling.

For example, the EU has granted member states significant control over gambling. Because of this, or thanks to it, gambling activities in EU countries differ markedly from one to the next, more so than almost all other areas of business. 

When we assess the activities of states in the gambling business, it is worth recalling that gambling is, in principle, a potentially dangerous activity that can cause significant problems for some consumers. 

For this reason, gambling is regulated all over the world, and there is no desire to make the sector free from regulatory scrutiny. The methods and degrees of regulation, on the other hand, vary greatly from country to country.

At one end of the spectrum are countries where gambling is prohibited entirely, such as in several Middle Eastern countries, or those with Islam as the prevalent religion. 

The starting point for many other countries is that gambling is prohibited, but special permits can be issued for it.

A number of markets have permitted gambling through a monopoly model, from which it has gradually transitioned to allowing different activities from a wider range of licensed operators.

When considering the different gambling systems, it is important to acknowledge these historical developments, because this helps to explain countries’ differing approaches.

States have several different roles and interests in the gambling business. It is the entity that enacts and organizes the regulation of laws in the country, and because gambling has been a restricted activity, many states have been responsible for operating gambling under the monopoly model. 

The gambling monopolies have thus been under the direct control of the state, in which case the country has been the main beneficiary – and the profits from gambling are enormous, of course.

Hence, states have a very high financial interest in controlling and managing the revenue from gambling, which they can then redistribute to their chosen causes. Minimizing the disadvantages of gambling is also a key goal, as the state often has to cover the cost of treatment for those who suffer gambling harm. 

But with differing goals and expectations, there are often conflicts between different stakeholders. In general, there will be a variety ministries dealing with different products and verticals – there are only a few countries in which all gambling is centralized under a single ministry. 

That is why, for example, increasing financial profits and reducing the number of gambling problems is viewed as a contradiction in many countries, leading to conflicting and unclear regulatory policy for the industry.

Gambling is often divided into three overarching verticals: lottery, betting, and casino, each of which is subject to significantly different regulations. 

Lottery operations are generally still based on a monopoly system in which one company takes care of all operations. In most countries, this monopoly is still overseen by a state-owned entity. 

Betting can be split into sub-divisions: horse and sports betting. In many countries, there has been a de-facto monopoly for horse betting, where racetracks and betting operators have worked in tandem. 

This differs from sports betting, where there have traditionally been several operators competing, which has also been true of the casino business. Thus, monopoly systems have traditionally been more common in lottery operations than in sports betting and casino operations.

When analyzing European gambling regulatory frameworks, it is easy to see that the lottery business tends to have remained close to the monopoly model, rather than opening up to private operators. State-owned companies run the activities, or the state has direct ownership while awarding operating rights to one provider through a tender process. 

In contrast, monopoly systems for betting and casino operations are few and far between. Of the European countries, only Finland and Norway continue to operate all gambling activities based on a monopoly system.

As I said before, the EU has given its member states a great deal of decision-making power when it comes to gambling policy. The precondition is that the legislation must comply with the general principles of the EU and that restrictions on doing business must be justified. 

The premise is that gambling activities can be regulated and restricted to prevent gambling problems. That is an understandable and acceptable principle, but is it being put into practice?

In general, a monopoly model is an inefficient way of running the business activity and is therefore a worse system than the free competition, or in the case of gambling, a license-based model. However, a monopoly can be defended, if it can be proven to be more effective in preventing gambling problems than the license-based model. 

However, this is not backed up by studies, which show little evidence of fewer gambling problems in countries with gambling monopolies. 

But the effectiveness of preventing gambling harm cannot be the only deciding factor in the value of a regulatory model. But in an increasingly digital industry, the jury is also out on the licensing model – traditional borders no longer have the same significance as they did ten years ago. This online shift has posed regulators with challenging questions they have not yet properly answered. 

When the rationale for a gambling monopoly in an EU member state should be to prevent harm, one may rightly ask why that model is only prevalent for lotteries. After all, studies show that traditional lottery games cause little or no gambling harm. 

In contrast, online casino, particularly slot machines, is often said to be the most harmful gambling product. Yet online casinos are regulated through the licensing model almost everywhere. 

This discrepancy is explained in part by historical reasons but certainly also through states’ financial interests – the lottery has been a goldmine for many nations. Revenue from lottery games can account for around 60% of a country’s gambling spending, compared to 5% to 10% for sports betting and casino. 

The private gambling operators’ lobbying efforts, which have sought to and succeeded in breaking the digital betting and casino monopoly, have undoubtedly also had an impact. Lottery games have not been part of the product range of these private companies, so legal battles have therefore not centered on lottery operations.

What will happen in the future? I’m not even trying to answer that, but I’m sure the change will continue. 

The weight of responsibility in gambling is growing strongly, which is why states’ legislative and regulatory roles will be maintained and even strengthened. But it is important to note that states are fundamentally unsuited to owning commercially significant activities. 

It would be best for all stakeholders that states will give up direct ownership of gambling companies. If operations still need to be tightly controlled, a limited number of licenses is a better solution than a state-owned monopoly.

Can a lottery be an international operator?

I have written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com and it is partly edited by Conor Porter.

Lottery companies have traditionally been directly state-owned or at least controlled by the states. The companies have operated in one country and mainly sell lottery games on an exclusive basis. However, the situation has changed in many ways in the 21st century. The digitalization of business has reduced the importance of traditional land borders and made it possible to start new types of business. As a result, competition in the gambling market has intensified, which has also affected lottery companies operating on a monopoly basis.

Economies of scale work very well in the gambling business. Expanding market areas will do little to increase costs for selling games on digital channels. Adding new gambling verticals to the product range increases costs one-time, but these additional costs are also marginal compared to the volume of the total operations. In economic terms, the gambling business could eventually end up in a so-called natural monopoly, with the largest company dominating the entire gambling market in the world. Therefore, there would be a very considerable economic and competitive benefit from economies of scale.

The gambling industry also seems to be of interest to companies traditionally operating in other sectors. To my knowledge, media companies, in particular, have analyzed the possibilities of expanding their operations into the gambling industry. There have even been rumors that the “Big 5” companies, or at least some of them, are considering joining the gambling business. However, there is already an internal consolidation in our industry, where technology suppliers have sought the operator’s role and a few operators have started a B2B business.

The lottery world may still be reasonably at ease, but there are already many signs of a change in traditional activity in our area as well. Most lotteries have started selling their games on digital channels, several companies have expanded their product range beyond lottery games, technology vendors operate games in several markets, ownership of lottery has been shifted to private investors, and Lottoland-type companies have mixed up the monopoly on traditional lottery games.

How should lotteries react to a changed situation? Traditionally, the lottery world has sought to resolve issues through legislation, which has been primarily a defensive struggle in which states have sought to secure the status of their “dairy cows” through laws and regulations. This kind of thinking is still prevalent in many countries, but luckily, lotteries have also been able to change. Keeping up with developments requires a critical review of your own operations and the ability to make the necessary changes. Many times an attack is the best defense. So could lotteries take over from other markets?

As I have said in my previous columns, defining a lottery is pretty challenging these days. The product ranges, operating principles, and ownership bases of the companies in the lottery organizations (EL, WLA) are very different. At the extreme are directly state-owned companies that sell lotto games and scratch cards only through retail channels in their own countries. On the other side are privately-owned companies that operate all gambling products in all channels and many different countries. Therefore, the operation of lotteries cannot be generalized in any way. I will now focus on that other extreme, the members of the lottery world who have entered the international competition.

Among the member companies of the European Lotteries organization, there are at least three different types of models to implement internationalization. The ownership base of lottery companies has changed, and private investors have joined. An example of such a change is the public listing of the French lottery operator FDJ on the stock exchange, in which state ownership of the company fell to a 20-25% level. Another even fresher and more interesting example is the acquisition of SISAL, an Italian company in which Flutter Entertainment, one of the giants of the gambling world, became the owner of the lottery company. Another change occurred years ago when another traditional Italian lottery operator, Lottomatica, and technology supplier IGT (GTech) merged. The FDJ, SISAL, and IGT have in common doing the gambling business in different roles and different countries.

FDJ and IGT are also examples of another way for lotteries to go international. These companies sell gambling-related technology to other gambling companies. For IGT, this has been the company’s core business, but for the FDJ, it is a significant change in which the traditional lottery has expanded into another industry. Years ago, the FDJ made acquisitions to acquire technological know-how aimed at developing better tools for its operations. As FDJ developed a larger entity from its technical solutions, the company established a new subsidiary, FDJ Gaming Solutions, to sell these technologies primarily to other lotteries. An example of a similar type of business is Camelot, which operates the UK lottery on an exclusive basis but at the same time sells technology and consulting services to other lotteries through its subsidiary Camelot Lottery Solutions. The newest entrant to such activities is my former employer Veikkaus, which has a monopoly on all gambling in Finland. Fennica Gaming, which is 100% owned by Veikkaus, started operations a month ago, and the company’s goal is to sell self-developed games and technology to other gambling companies.

A third exciting model for implementing the internationalization of gambling is to expand B2C operations to other countries. The best example of this in the European lottery world is the Czech lottery company SAZKA, which currently operates internationally under the name Allwyn. The company has bought holdings in several European lotteries. In addition to the Czech Republic, Allwyn operates in Austria, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. In addition to these, the company is competing for the UK lottery license with Camelot and SISAL. At least Allwyn is not yet in a position to take full advantage of economies of scale in its lottery operations, as the laws of the countries in which it operates do not allow this. However, the situation could change significantly if the lottery business moves from a monopoly to a license-based system.

It is already clear that a company operating a lottery in a country on a monopoly basis may also operate internationally. That, of course, requires a group structure in which international operations are handled through another company. Therefore, expansion of the business is possible, but it involves, e.g., significant competition law challenges, at least as long as the lottery operates under a monopoly. It is interesting to note that the most active expanders have been the forerunner and most advanced lotteries. Does this mean that others will follow them in this area as well?

Keeping it in the family: Changing relationships in the lottery sector

I have written this text for www.ice365.com, and it is partly edited by Robin Harrison-Millan.

The lottery sector was once made up of state-owned monopolies, all with similar interests – and usually an aversion to the private sector. But as businesses evolve through spin-offs, acquisitions, and public listings, is there such thing as the ‘lottery family’ in 2021?

I remember how surprised I was when I moved from a horse betting company to a lottery in the mid-1990s. I hadn’t expected the lottery not to maximize business results. This commercially-minded young man was somewhat shocked to have to press the brakes so that sales would not have grown too much after the economic depression.

Another equally significant surprise was the attitude prevailing in the lottery business. There was a perception among the company’s management and employees that “we are better than any other gambling company”. The lottery saw itself as on a different moral plane to horse betting and casino operators. Pretty quickly, that attitude fixed itself in my mind too.

When I was involved in international cooperation between lotteries, I noticed this attitude was global, and not just a Finnish specialty. The lotteries organized, and continue to hold, an annual congress that brought together several hundred lottery leaders.

In retrospect, those congresses were like a religious ceremony to emphasize the right and superiority of one’s own cause over other gambling operators. Lotteries think that, in particular, the casino business has been bad, almost sinful, but lottery games have been harmless and good for customers.

Until recently, ‘gambling’ was a ‘forbidden word’ at lottery events. So, according to lottery people, lottery games have not been gambling but gaming.

The development of technology and business has changed the way lotteries operate, and the situation in many countries is different from what it was just over 25 years ago. My own company, Veikkaus, was one of the first companies to jump into the digital business when we launched an internet gaming offering as early as the end of 1996. Before that, we have already added sports betting to our product range. All Nordic lotteries followed the same development path.

Business development and customer-oriented thinking spread to many other lottery companies. Many companies’ directors and experts understood that lottery games are part of a larger business entity. It is not just about gambling but also about spending on entertainment and leisure.

Although that was understood in many lotteries, the word ‘competition’ also found itself on the list of ‘forbidden words’ for a long time. Almost all lotteries have the exclusive right to operate lottery games in their own jurisdictions.

Therefore, the thinking was the lottery cannot compete with other companies because it is not possible for a monopoly company. Such thinking created a dilemma where lotteries sought to increase market share at the operational level, but at the same time talked like a monopoly.

Today, the operations of lotteries are more divergent. Unfortunately, some companies still cling to that 90s mindset. The business has been developed, but only in the field of lottery games.

I have often compared the activities of these companies to a state office, where the most important task of officials is to avoid mistakes. It has been impossible for such lotteries to succeed in an increasingly fierce competition. At the very other extreme are those lotteries that operate purely commercially.

These companies follow precisely the same business principles as any large private gambling operator. The state office-type lotteries and public-listed companies have little in common, although they still belong to the ‘lottery family’.

Almost all companies inside the lottery organizations, such as the European Lotteries, have exclusive rights to lottery games. In fact, these companies have nothing else in common anymore.

Lotteries are used to planning things together, although business cooperation is generally limited to a few joint lottery products. The best-known examples of collaboration in Europe are the EuroMillions and EuroJackpot lottery games.

Although there are hardly any other joint projects, lotteries have been willing to work together, despite differences in how businesses are run. The state office-type lottery, under strict state control, is ready to discuss cooperation with a listed lottery business. But at the same time, a private gambling operator with a background in sports betting will still be considered a ‘bad’ company.

We heard some exciting news just before Christmas. One of the gambling giants, Flutter Entertainment, announced that it would buy the Italian company Sisal. Flutter counts the likes of Paddy Power, Betfair, Sky Bet, PokerStars and FanDuel among its brands.

To lotteries these are all seen as dangerous ‘gambling’ – rather than ‘gaming’ – brands. On the other hand, Sisal is part of the ‘lottery family, although its activities and ownership have always deviated from the mainstream of lotteries.

Sisal participates in the EuroJackpot game together with the Nordic, German, and many other European lotteries. Now, suddenly, Flutter is involved in that collaboration. How well can such an operator mentality fit into this lottery group? Will Flutter become a member of the ‘lottery family’ after the Sisal acquisition, or will that group begin to disintegrate?

Another interesting example of a change in the Lottery family is the tender process for the next UK National Lottery license. Camelot, Sazka, and Sisal, the largest European lottery companies, competing for the contract.

In principle, the cooperating companies have become each other’s worst potential competitors, although they do not yet compete with each other in business terms. It hasn’t been long since the directors of these three companies sat on the board of the European Lottery Association, where they were planning measures against private operators.

There is stiff competition for billion-pound businesses against partners that sit in the same organization. All three of these lotteries are owned by private investors, further increasing the weight of the business in strategic choices. Can such companies again be satisfied members of the lottery family after the UK competition as before? I doubt it, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

The time for traditional ‘lottery family’ thinking is over. Instead, I think new, slightly smaller groups may form among the existing lotteries, which will still be able to work together among themselves.

Cooperation should be developed between companies in a similar fashion. There is a much better basis for cooperation if the companies’ goals and values are identical. Lotteries that are state-owned and only allowed to operate lottery games have very little in common with the private companies that offer all gambling verticals across all channels.

As I said earlier, the values of a state lottery and a public-listed company are not likely to be a “match made in heaven”.

I believe that the cooperation between the lotteries will continue, but the nature of that cooperation is likely to change. Not all lotteries can and do not even want to, enter into open competition in the gambling market. It is important that companies operate based on their values and strategies and find suitable partners for that.

The changing operating environment for lotteries

I have written this text for http://www.ice365.com, and they have partly edited it.

I’ve been lucky to have been working in the gambling industry for most of my business career. For most of that time, I have worked with lottery companies. 

The past 18 months, during which I have been consulting in the gambling industry, have opened my eyes to the enormous change our entire industry is currently undergoing. I’m a little worried about how well lotteries understand that need for change and whether they will be able to react fast enough.

The lottery world has already changed a lot in recent years. In the past, lottery companies were largely state-run entities, but this is no longer true, at least not in Europe. States still own lotteries in many countries, but more and more companies are privatized. 

The operating model of an investor-owned listed company is very different from that of a state-owned company, and this has inevitably affected the operation of lotteries as well. 

I’m confident that lotteries, which operate similar to private businesses, will thrive in this evolving environment. The likes of Camelot, La Française des Jeux, Sazka Group and Sisal examples have shown this is possible, as have Nordic lotteries such as Danske Spil and Svenska Spel.

Not so different

The interesting question is how lotteries under the strict control of the state will cope with the challenges of the future, or even the hurdles they face today. Lotteries often see themselves as distinct from what is traditionally considered a gambling business. This is not the case. I would argue that when it comes to customers’ decision-making, they consider lotteries as part of the overall gambling industry or even the entertainment and leisure market. 

Lotteries, therefore, need to understand that they are competing, despite their nominal monopoly position, against other gambling offerings. If this is not acknowledged, the state-run businesses will have little chance of success in the years to come.

Accepting and adapting to a competitive situation does not mean that lotteries should change their entire operations. Having said that, it is important to understand the most critical choices for customers when considering where to spend their money. 

Lotteries need to know their customers better and understand the motives for gambling, or as many insist on calling it, gaming. In this way, lotteries can find the right strategic solutions that will help them continue to succeed in their markets. 

Changing channels

It is clear that lotteries need to invest heavily in digital channels. The traditional retail model is no longer enough. Of course, there are still significant regional differences here. In any case, products must be available where customers spend their time anyway. 

Another key area for change relates to the scope of the product range. Private gambling operators are one-stop shops today, offering all gambling verticals under a single brand. For consumers, it is much easier to bet, play slots, and have a game of bingo via one provider than it is to jump between offerings. 

Therefore offering lotto games and scratchcards is no longer enough; customers expert more. Equally, it is essential to understand that digitizing operations and expanding the product range should not mean abandoning responsibility requirements.

State of play

Perhaps the biggest challenge lies in the changing relationship between the lottery and the state. From my experience, I know that the directors at several lotteries have spotted what is required to future proof their businesses – but the state has not given permission to make the necessary changes.

There are two distinct roles that the state plays when it comes to lotteries. One is as the “parent company”, with the power to guide decision making, and the other is as a regulator of gambling activities. Through this second role, the state can play a decisive part in whether the lotteries under their control are able to remain relevant in a changing industry. 

Strict regulation, for example, can prevent the lottery from digitizing its operations and expanding the product range as required. In many cases, a lottery’s apparent refusal to change with the times is seen as laziness – or even stupidity – on its part. The real reason for these entities being slow-moving is often down to the state. 

The changes set out above require a change in mindset among the key decision-makers in the lottery world. Lottery chief executives and their management teams must first understand the need for change. Then they must work with their boards to enable the necessary changes to the business and set out what can be considered a success in competing against the private sector. 

After that, they have to get support and acceptance from the state for their planned changes – they must “sell” the proposal at the highest level. This requires a significant shift in the ways many think of lotteries and their purpose. That new mindset must also be applied internally, so staff can change how they present and promote products to customers.

Fortunately, this is hardly rocket science. Even within the lottery world, several successful case studies are available in which a lottery has succeeded in modernizing its business. Benchmarking and best practices are a reasonable basis for change, but there can always be an even better way to do things. When making decisions, efforts must be made to find the best possible solution to the current market situation.

All of the above will also help lotteries prepare for possible changes in the legislative environment. I do not think that the future lottery business will be based on a monopoly system. If a company is competitive, it will thrive regardless of the gambling system. In the following columns, I will elaborate on my views on the possibilities of modernizing lottery activities.

Horse betting in the lotteries product portfolio

I have written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com, and Conor Porter has partly edited it.

Traditionally, horse betting and lotteries have not belonged together. The gambling business is almost everywhere based on a model in which gambling is divided into three or four different areas of activity. Casino operators have run casinos and in recent years, also online casinos. Betting companies have operated sports betting, including in many cases, horse betting. 

On the other hand, there have also been separate horse betting companies in the market that have taken care of on-track betting and later also online horse betting. In addition to these, there have been lottery companies whose product range has included lotto games and scratch cards. The product range of lotteries has expanded to sports games in many countries, and in some cases, to casino games and horse betting.

As we know, the consolidation of the gambling industry is happening at a rapid pace. New operators from outside the gambling industry have entered or are entering the industry. In addition to this, the division within the industry is breaking down. More and more operators today offer almost all different product groups for gambling. The digitalization of operations and online sales have made this more accessible than it was in the old retail channel model. For example, many traditional sports betting operators now make most of their revenue from casino games. Several lotteries have also realized that they have the potential to succeed in the competition if they expand their business to other gambling verticals.

Customers’ demands on businesses have grown tremendously. Companies can no longer succeed with old-fashioned operating models. Products should be available where customers are anyway. That has placed great demands on the digitization of operations. It is already impossible to do an effective gambling business in many countries without an online sales channel. For example, about half of all gambling sales take place on digital channels in Nordic countries. Customers also seem to prefer companies from which they can buy all products from one place. This implementation requires expanding the product range to cover all major product groups. The competitive advantage of lotteries is so far quite strong, as private operators have not found a sensible way to offer lottery jackpots. However, lotteries should also be active and expand their product range to other gambling verticals.

As I said earlier, lotteries don’t easily come to mind when you think about horse betting. When you look at it a little more closely, the image turns out to be at least partially wrong. One member company of the World Lottery Association (WLA) is the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), one of the world’s largest horse betting companies. In addition to HKJC, WLA’s member companies include dozens of lotteries that also offer horse games. In Europe, companies like SISAL, IGT Lottery, Veikkaus, Loterie Romande, Svenska Spel, and Danske Spil have horse betting in their product portfolio. According to the experience of European companies, customers who actively play horse betting also play other games offered by lotteries and are therefore very profitable customers.

The WLA recently added an interesting new member company in Europe’s biggest horse betting company, the French PMU. PMU has been working closely with lotteries, mainly in French-speaking countries, for a long time. Several of the lotteries in the French-speaking countries of Africa sell PMU horse betting, which accounts for a large proportion of the total revenue from those lotteries. PMU also cooperates with European lotteries at two levels, commingling and technology.

The strength of lotteries compared to other gambling operators is the large number of customers and the tradition of cooperation. As we know, the big lottery products in North America and Europe are the result of collaboration. Individual lotteries could not have produced products like Euro Millions and Powerball. In such pool-based products, collaboration allows for huge jackpots. The same model could work in the area of horse betting. Lotteries have an extensive customer base and sales network in their own countries. When combined with an exciting product, there is a “winning combination” in size. Of the WLA members, both HKJC and PMU already have betting products that would seem to appeal to customers of other lotteries.

Last week, WLA organized a horse betting webinar, where lottery companies were introduced to the World Pool horse betting that is already up and running. Lotteries from countries where horse racing is a popular sport should consider joining that World Pool game. The easiest way to expand your product range to the field of horse betting could be to work with PMU. I believe that other member companies in the lottery world that already run horse betting are also ready to help other lotteries join.

The development where lotteries are getting involved in the horse betting business is exciting to me personally. My gambling business career started with a horse betting company, where I had time to be the CEO for a while before joining the lottery company. I’m still an active horse bettor and involved in Board-level horse racing activities here in Finland. That’s why I think I’m qualified to help lotteries who want to understand the potential of horse betting. So, I’m ready to help if contacting the giants of the lottery world is not the most interesting option of all.

Lottery license bidding

I have written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com, and Conor Porter has partly edited it.

Lottery gaming is still based on a monopoly system in almost all countries. At the same time, however, the activities of other gambling verticals are based in more and more countries on a licensing system with dozens or even hundreds of gambling companies. Is the traditional monopoly system based on law already too old-fashioned to conduct lottery activities?

Gambling operations cause significant problems for some customers. It is therefore up to society to restrict this activity. The situation is the same as in alcohol and tobacco businesses. In the area of gambling, states have decided not only to regulate operations but also to own the companies that run the lottery business by themselves. From this background, state lotteries have emerged, in which the state acts as the owner of the companies. In some cases, state lotteries are part of the state administration and do not operate like regular business ventures. In such a situation, there is certainly no attempt to maximize business results.

The interesting question is, why have states ended up controlling lottery businesses in particular? From society’s point of view, the starting point would seem to be the precise regulation of hazardous activities. In gambling, however, the situation appears to be just the opposite. The most problematic activity for players, casino games, has always been in private business in most countries. The next most dangerous area, betting, has also moved into the normal course of business almost everywhere. Of course, states continue to control these gambling areas through legislation and regulation, but there is no longer any state’s direct ownership of these activities – if at all. In contrast, the situation is different for the least problematic gambling vertical, lottery games, the situation is different – why?

The European Court of Justice has outlined the justification of the gambling monopoly system for EU countries. According to court rulings, Member States are free to decide on their gambling legislation as long as the rationale for the schemes is credible. A monopoly system can be a legitimate model for carrying out gambling activities if the primary purpose is to prevent problems related to gambling activities – problem gambling and criminal activities (including money laundering). According to the ECJ, fiscal targets, gambling revenues are not legitimate for a monopoly system. Against this line, it is fascinating to consider how and why rather dangerous casino activities are much less under the control of Member States than reasonably harmless lottery activities.

I’m not even trying to be a lawyer, so I’ll stop legal reflection on this. However, it is interesting to think about how states should organize lottery activities to meet legal requirements while still generating significant revenues for states. I do not favor full liberalization / licensing of lottery activities, although, in principle, I favor a free-market economy. There are usually so many gambling companies in a free competition that the business is decentralized to several operators. In lottery games, this would not necessarily be in the interest of customers because, in lottery games, the big jackpot is the primary motive for playing. In a competitive situation, the size of the jackpots would collapse compared to the current monopoly situation, and I do not consider that to be a good thing for customers.

In my current role as a gambling consultant, I have had the opportunity, for a small part, to be involved in the lottery exclusive license bidding process in a couple of countries. That is, in my view, the best way to combine the monopoly system and the market economy to preserve the legal legitimacy of the system and optimize the revenue on the operation. The bidding process would also avoid the strange situations in which countries have given privately-owned companies the exclusive right to run lottery activities. I have wondered why no one has questioned such cases, which are numerous in Europe, for example.

Bidding for a lottery license is undeniably a very laborious process. The UK is probably the most famous country that uses the lottery license. There, the license is in principle granted for ten years at a time. If I have understood correctly, Camelot UK, which has had the license since the beginning of the system, starts preparing for the bidding about a couple of years before the expiry of the current license. Dozens, unless the hundreds, employees will be involved in preparing tender documents, and costs are indeed very high. I have heard that the tender documents have contained more than 1,000 pages of text per participating company. It is also a tremendous job to evaluate the offers and decide who will win the license.

However, the bidding model seems very good otherwise. The competition will help to preserve the best aspects of lottery activities while at the same time dismantling the dual role of states. The state acts as a self-regulator in a traditional monopoly system, which is not the best possible situation. It is certainly challenging, if not impossible, for states to forget the importance of lottery revenues when making regulatory decisions. In a competitive-based model, this can be expected to be more accessible.

I know that there has also been criticism of lottery licensing in the UK. I think that the participating companies present their estimates of revenue development during the licensing period, which has a reasonably significant weight in selecting the licensee. However, I assume that that return estimate is not a promise of any kind. If the winning company does not produce the amount presented to the state, it will face no financial consequences. Admittedly, there may be some inconvenience in getting the following license.

No system is perfect, but I still see lottery monopoly licensing as a model that other countries should seriously consider. It would be interesting to consider a similar model, based on a limited number of licenses, for other gambling verticals too.

The purpose and future of lottery organisations

I have written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com, and Conor Porter has partly edited it.

During my one-and-a-half year consulting career, I have mainly worked in lotteries and related matters. I have been surprised that even those who regularly cooperate with lotteries talk about lotteries as if they were somehow a homogenous group of companies. This is by no means the case. Understanding this is important both for the lotteries themselves and for other companies working with lotteries, as I wrote in my previous column.

Most lotteries are members of the World Lottery Association (WLA). In addition, the same companies also belong to similar continental organizations. Here in Europe, that regional organization is called The European Lotteries (EL). 

The WLA is an international, member-based organization of state-authorized lotteries, sports betting operators, and suppliers to the global lottery industry. The EL is the umbrella organization of national lotteries operating games of chance for the public benefit. Based on the organizations’ definitions, it can be concluded that the common feature for the members is to run lotteries under state license so that the profits are directed to charitable purposes.

Even a superficial analysis of the member companies reveals that there is no real common factor for the companies. All companies run lottery games from a monopoly basis in their jurisdiction, but even that is not the case. Some of the members of the organizations are gambling companies whose product range does not include lottery games at all. 

Another common factor identified in the definitions is revenue-sharing for public benefit. This is true in principle, but similarly, for example, other gambling companies operating under a state license can declare that they support state-decided targets with their gaming revenues. Only part of the profit of companies belonging to lottery organizations goes entirely for public benefit. In practice, therefore, it is not a common factor for member companies either.

EL has sought to promote the advocacy of its member companies towards the EU. This has, in principle, been an important area of activity, although around 30% of the organization’s members are not located in EU countries. 

What has the EL sought to promote towards the EU? In practice, the activity has been mainly the monitoring of EU legislation and the European Court of Justice decisions. The actual advocacy work has been difficult to do because the members of EL do not have a common will on things. 

EL lotteries are so different, and lottery/gambling laws vary so much from country to country that the target states of lotteries differ too much. It would be possible to find different subgroups within the EL that could have a common will to regulate at the European level, but such a will certainly cannot be achieved as a whole.

WLA has not even sought to influence social issues. The role of that organization is mainly to gather information, commission research, and organize seminars. These are, of course, important things for member companies, but those tasks could very well be done by someone else. WLA seminars, especially the biennial congress, are excellent networking venues for lottery directors and technology companies working with lotteries. These events strengthen the cohesion of the “lottery family,” but they do little to benefit the overall operation.

The problem with lotteries has been the desire to stay separate from other gambling operators. Lottery operations have been preferred to betting and especially casino games. From the point of view of gambling problems, this has certainly been justified. On the other hand, the majority of EL’s member companies now have sports betting operations. On top of all that, about 20% of EL companies run casino games. So there is no reason to say that lotteries are better than other gambling companies. Some of the lotteries are among the most responsible gambling companies globally but by no means all.

How, then, should lottery organizations be developed? The answer to the question depends on what the action is intended to achieve. Organizations may continue to exchange information and hold seminars within the framework of competition law. However, it is unnecessary to expect significant improvement in companies’ social and economic situation from such activities. Each company must be able to take care of advocacy work in its own country. However, such activities will not meet the biggest challenge in the gambling industry, which is to enhance the industry’s reputation.

If the lottery industry wants to make a difference, it has two options. Within the industry, it is divided into smaller homogeneous groups that can then pursue common goals. Such groups are more influential than individual companies, but are they strong enough actually to influence issues at the continental level? 

Another option is a cooperation between gambling organizations. I think it is possible that, by working together, lotteries and casino companies could improve the operation and reputation of the entire gambling industry. The aim of cooperation could be, for example, clear definitions of legal and illegal gambling activities. This could help improve the reputation of legal gambling, which would boost the operations of member companies.

One size doesn’t fit all

I have written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com, and Conor Porter has partly edited it.

I’m sure you know the t-shirts sold in tourist stores, the size of which is stated as “one size fits all”? I’ve always wondered how stupid people are when they buy shirts that don’t look good on anyone. Similar examples of selling the same product can be seen in all industries. The selling company focuses on lowering the cost level and seeks large economies of scale by keeping production in one or a few products. However, such a business strategy can only produce bulk products that are not of great importance to customers.

I have written several times in my previous columns about how important it is to understand customer needs. With the data collected from customers, companies can offer even better products and services which, in turn, increase business profits. When successful, customized products are an actual win-win situation where the company receives more revenue, but at the same time, customer satisfaction increases.

Lotteries, especially in the field of lottery games, sell their products to such a large number of customers that, at least in theory, one product fits all thinking might even work. Such a product suitable for everyone should be developed with the average customer in mind. If the customer base is large enough, then the average product may be of interest to a sufficiently large customer group. A lotto game focusing on the jackpot could be such a product, for example. The smaller and more heterogeneous the customer base, the more difficult it is to develop a single product that suits everyone.

However, the actual topic of this column is not the products and services that lotteries offer to their customers. Instead, I would like to highlight the challenges of action between gaming technology suppliers and gambling operators. Based on my previous experience with lotteries and now through additional information obtained through consulting, I argue that some kind of “interpreters” would be needed between operators and technology companies to understand each other better. It may be that there should be similar “interpreters” within gambling companies between business and technology people.

I admit that I see the situation perhaps too much through the eyes of the lottery. In any case, it seems that a large percentage of gaming technology companies are looking to sell the same product and the same technology solutions to all gambling operators. Like in the B2C business, customers are different in the B2B business; clients are different and have specific businesses. The understanding seems to be enough for casino companies, betting companies, and lotteries to belong to different series. Instead, it seems surprisingly difficult to understand that lotteries are a completely heterogeneous group of companies. Sure, some lotteries resemble each other more than others, but a business-oriented, stock-listed lottery needs something other than a lottery like a state office.

I’ve talked a lot about the need for lotteries to develop their digital business and, on the other hand, the need to add new product verticals. As such, an excellent digital platform may be too complicated for a company starting a digital gambling business, while the same solution may be far too simple for a lottery that has been running digital operations for years. Technology companies should understand the levels at which different gambling operators are in different areas. Based on this understanding, it could be easier to tailor individual solutions to companies. The situation is thus quite similar to B2C, where the aim is to offer players personalized products and services. In reality, those products are not made individually for each customer, but the goal is to create a feeling for the customer that this is just for me.

Take, for example, the product area of betting. A technology supplier seeking to sell its betting solution to lotteries must understand at least the legal situation in that target country, the current state and strategic importance of sports games in the entire operation of the lottery, and the technology architecture of the gambling company. The legislation affects many issues and may impose specific requirements that make basic solutions impossible in that country. The needs of sports games are different for start-up companies than for a company operating in this product area for a long time. It is also possible that some lotteries just want to offer sports games to serve their customers, while other lotteries strive to make the maximum profit out of sports games as well.

For a lottery that wants to add betting to its product portfolio but still intends to focus on running lottery games, the full-service solution is perfect. The technology must meet the requirements of the country’s legislation, but it does not have to have any specific business specialties. The reliability of technology is a crucial element. In addition to the basic technology, there is also a need for ready-made odds, usually obtained from large companies focused on them through a revenue share agreement. Selling such a total ready-made package to large lottery companies running sports games, on the other hand, is entirely pointless. Many lotteries operate in sports games in the license-based market, where they compete openly against other operators. In a situation like this, you can only succeed by doing things differently, better than your competitors. That requires tailored services and also, at least in some sports, different odds from other companies.

Understanding IT architecture is an exciting area. Traditionally, lotteries have purchased their technology solutions from a single supplier. Lottery technology solutions have been based on a model where the central gaming system has been at the heart of it all. However, the situation has changed, at least for more advanced lotteries. The companies source the best solutions for different areas from different technology suppliers. Therefore, system integrability is of great importance to such companies. Instead, traditionally operating lotteries still want to buy all the technology from one supplier. It goes without saying that it is not worth trying to sell the same solutions to such lotteries.

As more and more lottery companies have switched to a multi-vendor model, technology companies have also changed their operating methods. However, I believe that suppliers still have a lot of opportunities to improve their service if they better understand the situation and needs of their customers. As I said above, the result of such action is, at best, a win-win situation where the technology company gets more sales, and the lottery is even more satisfied. In fact, there is still a third win in this model, as lottery players are also likely to be happier than they are today with better products.

Social elements improve the customer experience

I have written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com, and it is partly edited by Conor Porter.

In my previous columns, I have repeatedly emphasized identifying and understanding customers’ gambling motives. If and when lotteries want to improve their operations, they need to understand their current and potential new customers. Why is someone already gambling, and how can it potentially affect the acquisition of new players? Customer understanding also helps to target the products and services that are best suited to players. Based on the same information, individually responsible gaming can also be made more efficient.

The motives for gambling can be summarized in three or four main themes. For lottery games, the most significant reason is dreaming. The other two major motives are entertainment and habit. The fourth motive is partly related to the previous ones, and it is linked to sport. Studies show that charity, for example, is the most significant reason to gamble with only a small number of customers.

The motives of an individual customer to gamble vary by time and place. The customer can dream of a Euro Millions jackpot on Friday. On Saturday, the same customer can leave his lottery ticket as he has done for 20 years. When there is an interesting football match on TV on Sunday, the customer bets a few euros to get a little extra excitement to watch the game.

Most lotteries have workable solutions to fulfil their dream motive. Lotteries continue to offer the biggest jackpots in the gambling world, allowing people to dream of a significant change in life, even if it is not very likely to happen. Lotteries also have enough to offer for smaller dreams. You can buy a scratch card for a few euros to win thousands or tens of thousands of euros.

A large number of lotteries have also started to offer sports games. On the other hand, entertainment-related qualities are not, at least not yet, the strength of lotteries.

A significant factor in entertainment is social interaction, which can happen through a physical meeting or in a digital environment. However, it is important to share experiences and do things together with other people. People need to enjoy the things they do. How have gambling companies and, above all, lotteries managed to take these things into account in their offerings? Undoubtedly not very well, but there are many opportunities.

There are many ways to support social communication related to gambling. Not all customers have switched from a retail channel to a digital channel, as you can still meet familiar salespersons and other players at the points of sale, with whom you can talk, eg, gaming-related matters.

Gambling is still a way for many customers at points of sale. The customers have been able to leave their lottery tickets at the same point of sale for decades. Lotteries generally still have an extensive sales network, the only purpose of which is not to make a profit but also to meet customers. For the same reason, acquiring new customers is easier in the retail channel than in the digital channel.

One workable solution to increasing social collaboration in gambling is syndicate gaming. Gambling companies offer opportunities to participate in gambling together with friends or family. There are also point-of-sale syndicates where customers can buy shares of big games. Selecting numbers and bets, thrilling results, and sharing experiences with other team members are elements that enhance the customer experience and make gambling more entertaining than playing alone.

It is also possible to add social elements to gambling in digital sales channels. In digital channels, it is also possible to offer syndicate portions generated by the gaming system. Customers can also create their own parties and play games together. Some lotteries have already created platforms where party members can discuss games and participate in gambling-related competitions. It is also essential for gambling companies to offer these services on a mobile channel, as increasing digital gambling occurs on mobile. On top of all that, people use mobile a lot for all other communication.

Gambling companies, including lotteries, are increasingly competing with each other, as are companies offering social and casual games. Gaming companies that provide entertainment games have always made their games entertaining, and those games often also contain social elements. Many casual gaming companies are consciously striving to approach the world of gambling. There are tons of sites where customers could play social/casual games with the possibility of winning real money. In most countries, direct cash winnings are not possible, but in any case, the trend is from casual games to gambling.

Similarly, many gambling companies are looking to develop new products that incorporate more and more social and casual gaming elements. For example, to survive the result of einstant games in the lottery product range, activities have been added to make the gaming experience entertaining. The gambling companies also have features that allow players to share their gambling experiences with their friends. It can be said that gambling companies are trying to approach the traditional plot of entertainment gaming companies. Both social gaming companies and gambling operators are looking for solutions to combine the best features of social games and gambling products. Competition is intensifying and expanding into new areas.

Lotteries may have even greater difficulty implementing entertainment elements in their games than casinos for example. This is especially true for traditional lottery games, where the low payback percentage and slow game rhythm make it difficult to entertain the games.

Adding social and entertainment elements to gambling improves the customer experience, which in turn improves business results. However, improving business results does not automatically mean an increase in problem gambling. Increasing customer understanding and thereby improving the customer experience also helps prevent gambling problems. It’s worth remembering that gambling is an entertaining and fun activity for about 90-95% of customers. However, we also need to take better care of the 5-10% group, for whom the situation is something completely different.

Lotteries can’t improve the reputation of the gambling industry alone

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

The collapse of the gambling industry’s reputation threatens the future of the industry as a whole. In principle, gambling is a dangerous activity, which is why states have always regulated it. The societal debate on gambling problems and other dangerous gambling-related activities has clearly intensified, at least in Europe and especially in its western parts. Gambling has ended up in the same category as alcohol and tobacco. It can be said that gambling is not producing anything positive for people and society.

The deterioration of the industry’s reputation has not yet directly affected gambling’s numbers in games offered and customers. People still want to play as much, or even more, people want to play than before, and the supply of gambling is increasing all the time. There are hundreds if not thousands of gambling operators on digital channels that offer new gambling and better gaming conditions than traditional operators. On the other hand, states have paid more attention to gambling regulation than before, and as a result, there have been more restrictions on licensed gambling companies. Prohibitions on gambling marketing, restrictions on money transfers, mandatory customer identification, and maximum gambling limits are examples of new restrictions in recent years.

In principle, the above restrictions are a good thing for gambling as a whole. They are designed to control the negative things about gambling, of which gambling problems are the biggest. At this stage, it is still too early to assess whether or not the restrictions have been able to prevent gambling problems. At least so far, no clear evidence has been obtained. The big problem for the industry is that the restrictions only apply to part of the gambling activity. Regulators have the possibility to restrict only legal gambling operators licensed in that country. The restrictions do not apply to gambling companies that operate without a legal right to operate in those countries. It is quite easy for companies to stay ahead of regulators in digital channels and continue to operate despite restrictive attempts.

It should be in the common interest of the authorities and the gambling companies legally operating in the country to make a clear distinction between legal and illegal gambling activities. This delineation is certainly different in individual countries, but it does not matter for the big picture. Citizens of each country should easily understand which gambling operators operate legally in that country and which do not. That is not the case at the moment, which is why the whole industry’s reputation is suffering from unethical gambling operators.

Lottery companies have had a strange habit of seeing themselves as better operators than other gambling companies. Over the years, there has been a general perception in the lottery world that lotteries operate ethically and that their gaming (they do not call them gambling) activities do not cause problems. Criminal activities related to gambling problems and other forms of gambling have been blamed mainly on private betting companies and casino operators. Casino games certainly cause more gambling problems than traditional lottery games and criminal activity, e.g., money laundering and match-fixing, related to betting and not lottery games. Today, however, a large proportion of lotteries already run sports betting operations, and some lotteries have also included casino games in their product portfolios. Defining lotteries is much more difficult today than it was in the early 2000s. It seems that in the eyes of customers, all gambling is a big whole. As a result, lotteries can no longer improve the reputation of their gambling activities on their own, even though too many of them still seem to think so.

Legal gambling companies should urgently start working together to improve the industry’s reputation. The old-fashioned division between lotteries, betting operators, and casino companies should be forgotten immediately. All of these groups have their own organizations that need to immediately begin joint planning and action to improve the reputation of the entire gambling industry. Illegal and unethical activities in the gambling industry must be banned. Customers need to understand better which companies are trusted operators and which are not. That would also be in the interest of the countries. The most effective solution could be the cooperation of all gambling industry organizations and national gambling regulators to establish operating norms and standards for the industry. It is in the common interest of regulators, licensed gambling companies, and customers to get illegal and unethical operators out of the industry.

It is clear that gambling causes problems that must be prevented. The extent of the problems varies from country to country and from gambling vertical to gambling vertical. Still, in general, it can be said that gambling causes some degree of problems for about 2-5% of customers—fortunately, serious problems for an even smaller group. Gambling is, therefore, generally a harmless activity for the majority of players. However, care must be taken to identify and control the risks associated with gambling, but there should be no need to ban all activities. In this sense, gambling is easy to compare to the sale and consumption of alcohol. Alcohol causes big problems for some people, but most consume it in moderation and without significant problems.

So not all gambling is bad. Together, the industry needs to find a solution to how we can continue to enable people to gamble entertaining to minimize the problems. I don’t think there is any way lotteries can solve this challenge alone or even together with regulators. At the least, we must abandon old-fashioned thinking and start cooperating with the various actors in the gambling industry. Improving the reputation of the entire gambling industry is in all operators’ interests and their customers. I suggest that organizations such as the European Lotteries, the European Casino Association, and the World Tote Association sit at the same table and immediately launch plans to improve the functioning of the whole sector. Reputation cannot be achieved through information and marketing measures alone but requires real operational reforms.