Questionnaire answers on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on the lottery and sports betting sectors from:
Nigel Railton, CEO of Camelot UK Lotteries Limited
How has the pandemic and the resulting lockdown affected the lottery and sports betting sector?
Like many businesses, we have seen some impact on National Lottery retail sales – in-store sales typically make up around 70% of total UK National Lottery sales – as a result of the ongoing retail disruption caused by COVID-19. It's too early to say what the overall effect will be on National Lottery sales over the medium to longer term, but what is clear right now is that there has definitely been a change in the way people are playing The National Lottery during this period. We've seen a significant increase in downloads of the National Lottery app and traffic to our online channels.
We’ve introduced a raft of measures to support our employees, players and retailers during this period. As part of these, and in line with government guidance, we've been supporting retailers and players by actively encouraging players to only buy tickets in retail if they're already in-store doing an essential shop – and to play online instead. We've adapted all of our current advertising where we're promoting an upcoming draw or jackpot to include ‘Play online or via the app’ messaging. We're also reminding people who have winning retail tickets that they have 180 days from the date of the draw (around six months) to claim a prize, so to keep their tickets safe and not to make a special trip out to claim a National Lottery prize.
What do you believe will permanently change in the lottery and sports betting sector once the pandemic lockdown has been lifted?
While nothing is certain at the moment, we have seen more people playing online during this period. It remains to be seen whether some of the players who traditionally played in retail will continue to play online – or whether they will return to their old habits when the pandemic is over. Needless to say, we’ll continue to do everything we can to support our 44,000 retail partners – as they are the backbone of The National Lottery here in the UK.
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?
In line with the current Government guidance – which says that people are still able to travel to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home – our sites are accessible to a small number of business-critical employees who need to be at work to carry out their duties. For example, we still need a limited number of people to run the National Lottery draws six nights a week and we have some colleagues in our Distribution Centre packing and sending out deliveries to retailers.
The vast majority of colleagues are working from home and those who are required to be on site are following social distancing recommendations and other guidance (staggered breaks, regular hand-washing, etc). In addition, when their on-site duties are completed, they are free to return home – so are on the premises for as little time as possible.
It’s too early to say how working will change in the medium to longer term, but the fact that the vast majority of our employees have been successfully working from home since March – paired with the fact that we have already implemented a range of on-site measures to ensure our business-critical employees are protected – means that we are in a good position.
Has the lottery sector's fundamental mission of raising funds for good causes been affected by the lockdown?
The current situation has emphasized the importance of the work The National Lottery does in raising over GBP 30 million every week for Good Causes around the UK. That’s because National Lottery distributors continue to fund vital work in communities (including meal delivery services for the elderly, food banks and projects that help overcome loneliness and isolation) and these funds will become even more essential in the coming months.
In total, up to GBP 600 million of National Lottery funding is being directed towards UK charities and organizations to help tackle the impact of COVID-19. For example, the National Lottery Community Fund recently announced that up to GBP 300 million will be used to support the most vulnerable in communities across the UK as part of this wider package.
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?
Thanks to our continued innovation and investment in The National Lottery’s digital channels, we’ve been able to meet the requirements of greater numbers of players playing online – whether that be on their smartphone or tablet via the National Lottery app, or their desktop on the recently refreshed National Lottery website.
We’ve also been looking closely at any adjustment, no matter how great or small, we can make to accommodate players moving from retail to playing online. For instance, with so many new online account registrations, we made it easier for these players – some of whom will have traditionally only played in retail – by implementing a number of measures, including lowering our minimum online deposit limit from GBP 10 to GBP 5. This has ensured that people who just want to buy a ticket or two play online instead of going out to a shop unnecessarily to do so.
Our retail partners have been under a lot of pressure in the current situation, so we’ve been doing everything we can to support them – namely actively encouraging players to only buy tickets in retail if they're already in-store doing an essential shop and waiving any fees if they have had to close their store as a result of COVID-19. And we’ll continue to do everything we can to support them in the future too.
Pan-jurisdictional lottery games such as Powerball and EuroMillions, which were once viewed as robust gaming products, have also suffered as a result of the lockdown. What do lottery leaders around the world need to do to protect pan-jurisdictional games in the event of another lockdown?
In light of the various measures to combat coronavirus that were introduced in some of the nine countries in which EuroMillions operates and the potential impact that these could have on the operation of the game, we temporarily changed how advance play worked on both EuroMillions and its spin-off game EuroMillions HotPicks.
Previously, players could buy tickets for EuroMillions and EuroMillions HotPicks for four weeks in advance (eight draws). However, in March, before the UK officially announced its lockdown, we implemented a four-week countdown for advance play on these games. This meant that each week the amount of weeks that could be played in advance went down by one week, until players were only able to play for one week in advance (two draws). Players were still be able to buy tickets on a draw-by-draw basis and the draws themselves still took place as planned.
This limited advance play option stayed in place for a number of weeks while we, and the other EuroMillions operators, continued to closely monitor developments. Fortunately, we are now in a position where we’ve been able to return the game back to four-week advance play. However, we believe that this temporary change was in players’ best interests given the uncertainty caused by the unprecedented and fast-changing situation that was unfolding across the EuroMillions community.
What regulatory and contingency measures should be put in place in order to protect the lottery and sports betting sector as a whole in the event of a future crisis?
The implications of the global pandemic, and ensuing lockdowns, have thrown up many new challenges for businesses – and that hasn’t been any different for Camelot. We’ve had to move quickly and adapt to an ever-changing situation, while continuing to meet our licence and integrity obligations. Of course, we already had extensive contingency measures in place, by way of our Business Continuity Plan. However, we had to adapt our plan to the actual situation and to bring it in line with the Government guidance being issued.
Throughout this period, we’ve implemented a range of measures – for example, our Contact Centre can now work from home, we’ve updated our advertising to encourage people to play online, we’ve lowered our minimum online deposit limit from GBP 10 to GBP 5, etc – which have enabled us to continue running The National Lottery as safely and responsibly as we can. This is because we know the importance of the work it does in raising GBP 30 million every week for Good Causes around the UK.
How do you feel the WLA can best help its members in the event of a future lockdown?
We appreciate the WLA continuing to provide ongoing updates about how other operators are responding to the crisis.