A lifetime in the lottery
Lottery Lore, the autobiography of Guy Simonis, details the career of the author – a career that developed in parallel to the evolution of the multi-billion dollar global lottery industry. Guy’s professional life is revealed in the book as a mixture of fate, strategy, risk, and diplomacy, that culminated in the founding of the World Lottery Association (WLA) and brought him international renown as an educator and authority on the global lottery and sports betting sector.
By Paul Peinado
WLA Senior Operations Manager,
Having emigrated from his native Holland, Guy’s lottery career began in North America in the early 1970s, at a time when various community elements were even more strongly opposed to gambling than they are today. Specters of the lottery sector’s early critics – for example, those who claim that the lottery is a tax on the poor – still exist today. Or consider present-day government officials, who while openly critical of state-sanctioned gambling, are yet covertly eager to receive the benefits that lottery funding brings to society.
Canada’s entry into the lottery world evolved slowly through the 1960s when calls by national sports federations for government funding of sports began to crescendo, spawned in large part by the Canadian National hockey team’s repeated losses to the national team of the Soviet Union. A strong relationship between sports and the lottery exists even today.
Guy’s entry into the lottery world came through the sport of water polo. Having started as a water polo player, he one day found himself president of the Canadian Water Polo Association and later was named Chairman of the Water Polo Section of the 1967 Pan American Games held in Winnipeg.
The less than stellar showing of Canadian athletes at the 1967 Pan American Games emphasized that Canadian sport needed more government support. The government of Manitoba province then established the Manitoba Sports Federation (MSF) to provide a unified voice for the athletes in the province and to afford them with the necessary support. All major Olympic sports – including football, wrestling, water polo, et al. – were represented on the board of the MSF. Guy found his place on the MSF board representing water polo and was elected president at the MSF’s first official meeting. His knowledge of sports federations in his native Holland – particularly the competence of Dutch sports federations in raising funds through lotteries – was an asset in forming the MSF.
On his many trips back to his European homeland, Guy began collecting information on lotteries for the funding of sports. In the process, he met important individuals that would influence the trajectory of his career and shape the development of the global lottery sector. Among these influential people were Lothar Lammars, father of the modern lotto game, which still forms the basis for the majority of state lottery games around the globe today. Through his association with the Europeans, Guy was able to introduce Sports Toto in Manitoba to help fund the MSF. And it was Sports Toto that later gave Guy his first contact with Intertoto, the umbrella organization of all Toto organizations worldwide, and one of the precursors to the later-to-be-founded World Lottery Association.
Although various lottery schemes had been tolerated in Canada over the years, lotteries were not fully legalized until May 1969, when the federal government passed legislation allowing the operation of lotteries solely by the federal or provincial governments. Quebec was the first province to follow suit when, in December 1969, the Crown Corporation Loto-Québec was established to conduct lotteries. The first lottery draw by Loto-Québec premiered three months later, on March 14, 1970.
Shortly thereafter, there was a push to get an interprovincial lottery organization going in western Canada, encompassing the four western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. The Western Canada Lottery Foundation (WCLF) became a reality in 1974. Guy Simonis played a major role in the formation of the WCLF, which he would lead a short time later. At the 10-year anniversary of the WCLF, the province of British Columbia broke ties with the Foundation, taking Guy Simonis with them. Guy became founding president of the British Colombia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), where he remained until his retirement in 1997.
It was during his tenure at BCLC that Guy really stepped out onto the international stage. In 1985 he was the first non-European elected to the executive committee of Intertoto. And he subsequently organized the first Intertoto Conference on the North American continent at his home base of Vancouver.
In that same year, the President of NASL – the North American Association of State Lotteries – stepped down. The members of NASL elected Guy Simonis to serve as president, the first Canadian to be so honored. Guy immediately set out to change the acronym NASL, which made no reference to Canada’s provincial lotteries, to NASPL (the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries). In North American lottery circles, Guy was henceforth recognized as the man who put the “pee” in NASPL.
The book is spiked with many such entertaining anecdotes, some of which describe the various quarrels and squabbles leading up to the creation of the World Lottery Association through the merger of the International Association of State Lotteries (AILE) and Intertoto. Lottery Lore also provides insider information on the careers and personalities of lottery industry VIPs, some of whom are still active in the business today.
In 1993, the first discussion on the merger between AILE and Intertoto took place. Around seventy percent of the world’s state lotteries were members of both entities, many of whom saw the time as being right to amalgamate the two associations and leverage the synergies of the two organizations. Although the need for a merger was evident, the cultural differences between the two associations remained an obstacle. In the book, AILE is characterized as being a “largely francophone institution” of traditional state lottery organizations and Intertoto as the lotto and toto company “upstarts” who offered the most popular games and who were the leaders in online technology. Guy was chosen to mediate the merger, which occurred only six years later, after numerous nerve-racking meetings, heated discussions, and bruised egos.
In 1995 Guy became President of AILE while remaining on the Executive Committee of Intertoto. This circumstance occasioned the eventuality of the Intertoto-AILE merger. The real breakthrough came at the end of 1996, when Guy was asked to assume the presidency of Intertoto after then-incumbent president Richard Frigren stepped down. On September 6, 1997, at the 13th Intertoto Congress in Berlin, Germany, Guy Simonis was confirmed as Intertoto President. Work on the merger then began in earnest. In his inaugural speech, Guy spoke of the advantages of a single world lottery organization. Although his words were met with approval, Guy admits to having felt strange being authorized to dissolve the association that had just elected him president. As president of both AILE and Intertoto, Guy was eventually able to pull both ends together and bring the merger to fruition. It was no longer a question of if a merger was possible, it was a question of when it would take place. The approving echo from AILE finally came at their 22nd congress in November 1998, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In September 1999, Intertoto and AILE held a joint convention in Oslo, Norway – historically known as the “Oslo relations” – where both organizations formally approved the merger and the World Lottery Association was born.
With a touch of irony, the founder of the WLA admits in the book that he never cared for gambling or lotteries. He qualifies this admission by saying that he did not object to gambling or lotteries, he just was not a devotee. As he put it “Perhaps my lack of personal enthusiasm for gambling was all to the good; it made me cautious, rather than a rabid fan, eager to plunge into ever new gambling schemes.”
Shortly after the founding of the WLA, Guy retired from BCLC and subsequently stepped down as WLA President. But he remained in the lottery industry as a consultant and educator well into the new millennium. Many a lottery professional had the opportunity to attend one of Guy’s Erewhon seminars. The Erewhon State Lottery case-history program began in 1988 as a one-off study program for lottery directors. The program gained in popularity and continued on for nearly thirty years, with Guy leading the course. The final Erewhon seminar – in which I had the great fortune to be a participant – was held in Romania in 2007.
For those working in the state-authorized lottery sector, Lottery Lore will broaden your perspectives and provide a better understanding of the behind-the-scenes politics that drive the WLA. It affords the reader an entertaining and informative peak behind the mask of diplomacy that permeates the association. I highly recommend this book.