The summer vacation season is coming to an end here in Northern Europe, so here comes my new column after a two-month break. As you have noticed from my previous writings, I consider it important that the offer of lottery companies is competitive compared to other gambling operators. That is especially critical in digital sales channels, where a massive number of other companies offering gambling products are available to customers.
Many lotteries have thought the competition does not concern them because the company has a monopoly on lottery games. That kind of thinking has not been very harmful in a situation where the sale of lottery games has taken place in the retail channel because the customers have faced only a few other gambling offerings. However, the digitalization of business and the change in customers’ consumption behavior have changed the situation dramatically. Fortunately, most lotteries have already understood this change, and a reaction to the matter has begun.
It is easy to see from the statistics of World Lottery Association and European Lotteries that there are considerable differences in the digital business shares of the world’s lottery companies. At its peak, the percentage of digital business is more than half of the entire company’s operations. However, dozens of lottery companies worldwide have not even started selling their games on digital channels. In all cases, the reason for this is not in the company itself but the legislation of the country in question, but it does not eliminate the existence of the problem.
Some lotteries have deliberately delayed the start of the gambling business in digital sales channels. The reasons for such a decision have been, e.g., fear of the reactions of the retail channel, considering digital sales as an irresponsible activity, the “competition doesn’t concern us” idea, etc. According to experiences from several countries, the agents’ reactions to starting digital sales have been very moderate in the end, and no significant problems have followed. Lottery digital sales have not increased gambling problems. In fact, running a responsible gaming operation in the digital channel is easier to implement than in the retail channel because, in the digital channel, all customers play with identification. The “competition does not concern us” thinking is ridiculous and dangerous. Lottery activity is not a separate “business bubble” but part of the customers’ regular choice.
What do lotteries have to do in order to stay involved in the development and remain attractive in the eyes of their customers? Short-term solutions depend on the company’s current starting point. Suppose a large part of the lottery’s business already comes from digital channels. In that case, the tools for operational development are entirely different from those of a company just starting the digital business. I will return to these concrete solutions a little later.
My university professor taught us that a company could improve its weaknesses by doing the same as others but doing so does not gain a competitive advantage. A successful company always needs at least one competitive edge over other companies participating in the competition. Lotteries have had at least two traditional competitive advantages. Lottery’s retail sales channel is the most expansive gambling sales network in several countries. Lotteries have also offered the highest jackpots in the gambling market, which have interested customers. In addition, the lottery profits to the beneficiaries and the responsible brand of the companies have brought a competitive advantage. Lottery’s strengths are still there, but they are not enough because there have become too many weaknesses in the operation.
People are used to doing their affairs more and more on digital channels. Entertainment and leisure consumption, in particular, has moved quickly to the digital age. Gambling products are a product group that is very easy to sell in digital channels because games are not about a physical product. Because of this, the supply of gambling games on the internet and mobile channels has exploded during the 21st century. Customers are offered an enormous number of games that are more entertaining to play than traditional lottery games. The availability of games is easy, so customers can decide where and when to play. If lotteries do not offer games on the same principle, they will develop a competitive disadvantage. By starting digital sales, lotteries, therefore, do not gain an advantage over other gambling operators, but in this way, they prevent the occurrence of a business disadvantage.
Lottery, which is planning to start selling its games on digital channels, has a lot of help available. Benchmarking and best practices information is available from other lotteries. The traditional technology suppliers of the lottery world also offer technology solutions for digital channels. In addition, several technology providers specializing in digital channels have entered the market. In addition to the technology solutions needed for sales and running games, there are also, e.g., technologies and services related to data and customer relationships. In the end, starting operations is quite simple, as long as the legal issues have been solved.
The most advanced lotteries in the digital gambling business are hardly satisfied just being in the business. Their aim is certainly to be better than other gambling operators in at least some aspects. Working with traditional technology suppliers of the lottery world has been a challenge. Because of this, many developed lotteries have ended up in a multi-supplier situation, where companies try to use the best providers on the market in different areas and no longer acquire all technology from one supplier. The best data and customer solutions are not necessarily found in the same place as the best game technology. The same situation applies to games and related services.
New game studios have entered the gambling business, developing entertaining games those interest customers. For one reason or another, there have been far fewer new game producers in the lottery game area than in other game verticals. I know that lottery games can be developed to interest customers significantly more than they do now, also in digital channels. So far, just a few companies have realized that. I follow with great interest what, for example, my former employer Veikkaus’ new subsidiary Fennica Gaming accomplishes in this area. I believe that by developing new responsible and entertaining lottery games, lottery companies can gain a competitive advantage and succeed in the digital gambling competition.
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.