Jari Vähänen: Horse betting in the lotteries product portfolio

In his latest column for Lottery Daily, Jari Vähänen of Finnish Gambling Consultants examines the relationship between lotteries and horse betting.
Image source: Jari Vähänen

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 digitalisation 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 realised 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 digitisation 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 a 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 organised 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.

Jari Vähänen

Jari has enjoyed a long and successful career in the gambling sector, having cut his teeth in the horse racing and betting business. He has spent the biggest part of that time with Veikkaus, the Finnish national lottery and gambling operator, where he was responsible for horse and sports betting business. While there he started digital sale channels, introduced the first customer-based strategy and took care of international relationships and businesses. Having resigned from the lottery in spring 2020, he established The Finnish Gambling Consultants Ltd and is now helping lotteries and other gambling operators and suppliers to further develop their businesses.