Mark Michalko, Executive Director, North Carolina Education Lottery
How will the world be different when we come out of this crisis - and how will the lottery industry, retailing, consumer shopping and recreational behavior be different?
I am sure that there are many diverse opinions as to how the world will be different because we are each experiencing changes brought on by the pandemic in our own way. My personal view is that on a societal level, lessons learned from the crisis will affect – consciously or subconsciously – the way we will interact with one another. Social distancing and respect for personal space will surely continue in the foreseeable future: in offices, in meetings, in restaurants, on planes – basically everywhere people are in close proximity with others.
Also, during this crisis, we have all been learning to use technology to help us become more efficient. Like many of our friends around the world, my family has been using Webex, Zoom, and other videoconferencing technologies to conduct virtual meetings due to ‘Stay at Home’ orders, and we have also done our share of purchasing via Amazon and other delivery services. While I don’t think that these technologies will completely replace in-person activities after the pandemic subsides, they provide us with options that we probably wouldn’t have considered were it not for the crisis. Going forward we will now ask questions: Is it necessary for me to get in a car and drive? Do we really need to assemble in the same room to discuss business? Each of us will make those judgments as we move forward in a post-Covid19 world. Continuing to use some of these alternative approaches in conducting our daily business can yield many benefits.
Similarly, from a lottery-specific perspective, we are focused on providing options for our players, including different ways to purchase as well as easier ways to claim prizes. Here in North Carolina, we have offered certain draw games online for years, but in recent weeks, we have seen an increase in online purchases. While the increase in online sales has not completely offset the decrease in retail sales, it shows that players are looking for options in how they interact with the Lottery. Retail locations will always be our primary sales outlets and they will remain our valued business partners. But I hope we will see online sales continue to grow to augment retail sales in the future. Similarly, while we closed our Claims Centers to limit exposure for both players and staff, we have continued to process claims that are mailed. We have also increased both the quantity and means of providing Lottery-related information to the public. We have used a combination of traditional press releases and social media to advise about PB and MM game changes as well as changes in our claims procedures. As we emerge from the current crisis, we will evaluate which processes we might wish to continue when we return to (the new) ‘normal.’
What might lottery operators be doing to position ourselves for success in the post-coronavirus world?
The pandemic has forced us to do many routine tasks differently than we did them just a few short weeks ago. Some things have gone smoothly, some a bit less so. As we evaluate the efficacy of new processes we have implemented, the question we should all consider is: Is ‘different’ also ‘better’? As long as we strike a balance between safety and player convenience, I am confident that some good will come from the crisis. As I said, it’s about offering players options to choose how they wish to interact with the Lottery, in terms of purchases, claims, and general information.
Lottery has performed better than other sectors in past economic recessions. How severely will the economic repercussions of coronavirus impact Lottery?
Hmmm… Well, I’ve been around long enough to have seen the lottery industry persevere through difficult economic times. I believe this largely stemmed from the fact that people can experience an interesting form of entertainment for a comparatively low entry price. Years ago we used to say that playing the lottery is “fun for a buck.” The premise was that even in challenging economic conditions, people were out and about and it wasn’t an economic hardship to buy a ticket (or two or three.) However, this is the first time in my lifetime that we have seen mass quarantining around the globe. People have died. Workers have been furloughed on an unprecedented scale, and many businesses have been brought to a standstill. News reports suggest that some may not survive. So, this situation is completely different from a cyclical economic downturn. There is no roadmap. There is no history to guide us as to “what happened the last time.” While there is enormous pressure on state and national leaders to ease restrictions and move back toward business as usual, I think social distancing in retail locations as well as limitations on occupancy in bars and restaurants, and other changes borne of this crisis may last a very long time, and thus, have a longer-term economic impact than prior events. Still, I am confident that, as an industry, Lottery will fare better than some others.