Questionnaire answers on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on the lottery and sports betting sectors from:
Richard Cheung, Executive Director, Customer and Marketing at Hong Kong Jockey Club Lotteries Limited
How has the pandemic and the resulting lockdown affected the lottery and sports betting sector?
The pandemic resulted in the suspension of betting shops which in turn led to our closure of lotto games, as over 65% of our tickets are sold via shops. The stoppage of global football games has also forced us to stop our football lottery.
Our focus has been to sustain racing in a closed-door setting. We have been one of the few globally who are successful. Since over 80% of our racing customers have an online betting account with us, we are able to sustain a very large part of racing income.
What do you believe will permanently change in the lottery and sports betting sector once the pandemic lockdown has been lifted?
We have always had a 7-step end-to-end digital wagering journey in development from account opening, to online fund transfer, mobile booking, preparing to bet, betting/enjoying, CRM and customer services. We believe that the digitalization of our wagering customer experience has accelerated customer adoption of all these steps. Before the crisis, our average online betting is 73% of turnover and I would expect the number to stay at 80% even after our shops reopen.
How has the pandemic lockdown affected the working environment of your operation? Do you foresee any permanent changes in how staff will work once the lockdown has been lifted?
The general feeling is that the world will be in a “new normal”. I can imagine many of the crowd control and social distancing measures will continue in our shops and racecourses. The whole operation will place more emphasis on the safety of employees and customers.
In our office, I imagine more of our colleagues will be deploying remote communication like Zoom.
Has the lottery sector's fundamental mission of raising funds for good causes been affected by the lockdown?
Even this is a short-term reduction in betting duty this year – I firmly believe that our mission of lottery for good cause will remain the same. In fact, during this COVID-19 outbreak, we have set up a HKD 100 m emergency fund as well as made various charity donations. One of the donations is giving out mobile internet data cards to 100,000 underprivileged students who may not have internet access at home and need data bandwidth for their remote learning.
Lottery retail points of sale have been among those hardest hit by the lockdown. Even operators with a well-established online presence rely heavily on retail channels to drive sales and acquire new customers. Do lottery leaders need to redefine how their retail points of sale operate?
I personally see online wagering share will go up after the crisis despite retail has their role. However, operators have to think hard about the value of retail point of sales on top of transactions. The directions would be more around education, responsible gambling and customer acquisition.
The cancellation of major sporting events has been devastating for the sports betting sector. Going forward, do you see sports betting operators embracing new products such as eSports or virtual sports to lessen their reliance on live events?
eSports or virtual sports is not on HKJC’s plan for now.
Have illegal gaming operators been able to capitalize on the lockdown?
The offerings by illegal gaming operators on Hong Kong races have been evidentially growing during the lockdown, when Hong Kong remains as one of the few jurisdictions that sustain racing.
How do you feel the WLA can best help its members in the event of a future lockdown?
WLA may encourage members to share their experience in tackling the lockdown and impact from the epidemic. Members may also mutually update the latest local measures for a better flow of information.