SBC Digital Summit: US lottery and the COVID challenge

Facing the challenges set by the coronavirus and preparing for a future post-COVID were among the main topics for discussion by key figures from the US lottery sector this week during the inaugural SBC Digital Summit

Taking part in a panel session titled “State of play – US lotteries during the coronavirus” were Barry Pack, CEO, Oregon State Lottery; Gordon Medenica, CEO, Maryland Lottery; and May Scheve, Executive Director, Missouri Lottery. Moderating was industry consultant and investor Richard Weil.

Expanding on the Missouri experience, Medenica told the Summit that in the early days of the shutdown, much of the state’s attention had been trained on the executive order to close down casinos.

He said: “We were very much focused on the casino closures and then we found that two days after the casinos were closed the bars and restaurants were closed – and they represent about 15% of our retailers (lottery) so we saw an immediate hit.” 

One interesting dynamic, according to Medenica, was that the decline in sales actually accelerated from the first three weeks. “We were down about 20% the first week, down 25% the next week, then down 30%,” he said. “We didn’t know where the bottom was at that point.” 

At the same time, the Lottery was receiving complaints from its retailers about people lingering in the stores. “So we started putting a number of advisories to them telling people to buy their tickets and leave the stores,” noted Medenica.

“We were advising them to use advance play and the self-service machines. We went through a whole retailer education process and that seems to be working and people are going in the stores for their essential items and if they pick up a lottery ticket that’s fine too.” 

But balancing public safety against the obvious requirement to raise funds for good causes remains an issue according to the CEO. “The strategic dilemma that we all face is that obviously the health crisis is number one,” he said. “But very quickly this is turning into an economic crisis and we understand how important our role is in raising money for the good causes in all our jurisdictions. 

“So that balance point between being very cautious and being very safe on health issues and yet continuing to do what we need to do which is to raise money is really the central decision point that we’ll be making going forward.”

Turning to the future for lotteries and preparing for life after the coronavirus, Barry Pack offered some sage advice for lottery operators. 

He told the summit: “All of us as lottery directors – whether in the US or anywhere else in the world – need to spend some serious time thinking about what a post-COVID 19 world will look like and how you fit into it and think very creatively about our customer journey and figure out what their expectations are going to be. We’re all going to be wearing masks for some time now and we’re going to have to figure out what that means for lotteries moving forward.     

The SBC Digital Summit, which runs until 1 May 2020, features conference tracks, a virtual exhibition and virtual networking lounges, attracting an estimated 10,000 delegates logging in from around the world.

There is still time to register for the event, with company discounts available: