Jari Vähänen: London is waiting for us

Jari Vahanen
Image: Jari Vahanen

Although Covid-19 is still making a lot of people sick, our lives have returned reasonably well to the time before the epidemic. People’s willingness to travel seems to be high after a few years of staying home. Because of this, I expect this week’s ICE in London will gather a much larger number of participants than last year. The good thing about last year for those of us who were there was that there was much more space in the corridors of the exhibition area than before. On the other hand, quite a few big suppliers didn’t have a stand, so not all of their offerings could be seen. I’m looking forward to getting to know the industry’s current trends, meeting colleagues, and making new contacts.

Life gets boring if it’s always the same as the day before. Of course, the same also applies to business, the development of which requires new ideas and inspiration all the time. Curiosity, readiness to question the current way of doing things, and seeking lessons from other operators will certainly develop your business. This is why it is crucial that company directors and experts responsible for development seek new ideas from the best operators in their field and try to learn from other industries as well.

This week’s ICE Expo is an excellent place to find out where the technological development of the gambling world is going. The current offerings of the largest game technology companies can be seen in one place, so companies looking for new game technology will undoubtedly get a good idea of what’s new for them if only there is enough time to go through all the exhibition stands. In addition, new games from big and smaller suppliers can be seen at the expo. 

In recent years, companies in the payment area have gained even more visibility at the biggest events in the gambling industry. I believe these companies will also be there in large numbers at this year’s ICE. Payment technology and services are developing at a fast pace. This is an area where lotteries could be more active than they currently are on average. In my opinion, offering modern technologies to customers is also part of lotteries’ operations. In this way, they could also improve their slightly unmodern image.

Entering new markets is not a part of lotteries’ business plan, although Allwyn, for example, shows a different example here. Probably Malta, Curacao, and a few other states that sell gambling licenses will, therefore, not receive very many visitors from lottery companies at the expo. Instead, I hope that companies that offer betting or virtual products are interested in lotteries other than just those that already have these products in their product portfolio. It is important that lotteries expand their current offering to digital sales channels if they have not already done so. After this, the next natural step is to expand the product selection from lottery games to other gambling verticals as well. You can certainly get ideas and help for these changes from gambling-related expos.

ICE is an example of an event in the gambling industry where the main focus is on the expo. In connection with ICE, ICE VOX seminar section focusing on different themes is also organized. Unfortunately, this seminar aspect has received too little attention at ICE. The situation is quite the opposite in SBC Events‘ events, for example, where the seminar is, at least for me, the main thing. In the seminars, you get a good idea of where the industry legislation is going and what business issues are on the agenda of other operators. Of course, you cannot share business secrets in the seminars, but you can get a good idea of things on a general level.

This year’s ICE VOX also includes a special lotteries section on Wednesday, February 8th, in the morning. The umbrella theme of the Lottery section is “Modernising Lotteries”. The panel discussions and presentations will deal with, e.g., digitization, new customer groups, and new product area opportunities. I’m looking forward to my very good friend and former colleague Joni Hovi‘s speech about the modern product solutions offered by Fennica Gaming (a subsidiary of Veikkaus). I’ll participate in the panel discussion, where we will discuss with experts from different continents the effects of the illegal gambling market and the solution options that lotteries can use to fight against these unfair companies. It’s worth coming to listen!

I honestly admit that for me, someone who has worked in the gambling industry for more than 30 years, the most important thing at events in the gambling industry is not listening to lectures or researching new technologies. Instead, what I’m looking forward to the most is the opportunity to meet hundreds of familiar colleagues in the live world and exchange ideas with them both about work matters and also about something completely different. Social interaction brings more energy and gives enthusiasm for many new things. I hope that in the coming week, I’ll also get many new contacts who I can sometimes help or from whom I can get help if necessary. At events, you have to be brave enough to talk to people you don’t know beforehand. This is indeed difficult for us Finns, who are generally quiet people.

This week in London also offers lottery professionals another exciting event. EL and WLA organize a marketing seminar at the end of the week after a break of a few years, where a large number of lottery marketing people from different parts of the world have traditionally gathered. That seminar is somewhat nostalgic for me because I gave the last presentation of the previous seminar organized (in 2020), after which I announced that I would resign from Veikkaus. So that presentation was my last job at the lottery company. I would very much like to have participated in this year’s Marketing seminar as well, but I no longer have access to it. I strongly recommend to the lotteries that you participate in large numbers in that event.

Let’s enjoy and be inspired by the events of the London gambling industry this week. If you recognize me, come and chat. Maybe we will become new contacts for each other.

Jari Vähänen 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 the spring of 2020, he established The Finnish Gambling Consultants Ltd and is now helping lotteries and other gambling operators and suppliers to further develop their businesses.