Kevin Gass, Vice President Lottery Gaming, BCLC (British Columbia Lottery Corporation)
A lottery’s approach to the global pandemic
COVID-19 has significantly affected every single sector of the economy, and of course, lotteries are no different. One key challenge about this worldwide pandemic is how rapidly the situation evolved and how quickly the industry needed to make business decisions to support the safety of our people, players and communities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, BCLC has consistently advised players and retail partners to put their health and safety first by following the Provincial Health Officer’s directions and emphasized that lottery tickets are conveniently available online at PlayNow.com or on the BCLC Lotto! app. PlayNow.com’s lottery and casino business more than doubled in the first week.
BCLC, along with all of the Canadian jurisdictions, implemented a six-month expiry-date extension for lottery tickets that have an expiry date between March 17, 2020 and September 17, 2020 in recognition that physical-distancing requirements to help stop the spread of COVID-19 may affect players’ ability to claim prizes. Following the temporary closure or BCLC’s prize-payout offices on March 18, 2020, we implemented an alternate remote prize-claim process to pay out prizes to winners.
In fact, we held our first-ever virtual winners celebration on the Lotto BC Facebook page on April 23, 2020 and paid Tibor Tusnady with his $16 million Lotto 6/49 win in front of a live Facebook audience. More than 7,300 viewers saw the online event, many of whom posted congratulatory messages to Tibor. It was a virtual, feel-good first for BCLC and its players, and received significant provincial media coverage from more than 35 major media outlets.
BCLC has paid out other large prizes to winners, since the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, and shares these positive stories with media. Media and players have received these stories well, demonstrating that people crave a feel-good story during these challenging times – and continue to enjoy the chance to dream that comes along with playing the lottery.
BCLC’s 3,500 retailers are our front-line lottery ambassadors, so we continue to listen to their feedback and consider it as part of any operational changes. Since day one of this crisis, BCLC has supported the decisions of our private-sector lottery retailers to reduce hours, close locations and/or implement proper physical-distancing protocols; some lottery retailers have suspended lottery sales altogether, while others continue to operate and are adhering to physical-distancing directions.
To support certain retailers’ focus on essential services, primarily food and pharmacy, we also adjusted the availability of our in-lane experience at grocery, called Lotto Express. Early on, we also modified our Advance Buy lottery service to prevent our players from using their money to purchase future lottery tickets, should the COVID crisis affect future draws.
More recently, as our grocery retailers have adapted to the COVID environment, we have re-introduced Lotto Express at select stores that continue to sell lottery. BCLC re-introduced the option to Advance Buy for these games following feedback from players and retailers who told us that suspension of the option prompted players to leave their homes more frequently than they would if they purchased in advance. Some retailers who decided to suspend lottery sales in the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic have since decided to resume sales with additional measures in place to protect their employees.
Here in B.C., where BCLC also conducts and manages online and casino gambling, we temporarily closed all of our bricks-and-mortar facilities on March 16, 2020 following a directive to do so from our government. Private-sector service providers operate our casinos and these companies – like all of ours – continue to face significant financial challenges as a result.
Anticipating business recovery
When the time comes to emerge from the physical-distancing requirements currently in place, BCLC anticipates draw-based games and Scratch & Win to recover faster as these products remained available for purchase at limited lottery retail outlets throughout the pandemic.
Acknowledging the uncertainty of the near future, we will focus on various purchase options, encouraging players to focus on the safest-possible option for both purchasing and prize payout.
We will also seek to understand how COVID has affected our players personally, financially and physically, and provide them with an entertainment experience that considers these factors. The same goes for our retail partners. We will continue to learn from them about how this pandemic has affected their operations, and work together to develop new and improved ways to support their operations and sales, while protecting their health and wellbeing – and that of our players.
Here in Canada, we know that COVID-19 has changed consumer behaviour. A national Angus Reid Institute poll taken during the last week of March indicates that 48 per cent of those surveyed completed online retail shopping in the last week, an increase of 10 per cent as compared to two weeks prior. When asked about online shopping once COVID subsides, the percentage of those surveyed who said they would continue doing grocery shopping online increased by 23 per cent as compared to weeks prior.
In B.C., since COVID-related physical-distancing restrictions took effect, we have seen significant growth in e-lottery sales and new online account registrations.
The growth of our online products – combined with the latest research – highlights that, more so than ever before, it is time to accelerate our focus on a seamless, omni-channel experience for our players.
This work is well underway at BCLC as part of Personal Player Experience (P360), a key component of our Corporate Strategic Plan, to offer our players customized, cross-channel experiences – whether they are playing our games online, at land-based facilities or at retail.
Some other exciting opportunities BCLC is exploring to adopt greater digital integration include a pilot for “Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store” at grocery and a pilot for online home delivery as part of a grocery order, for example. In addition, another sales channel we are piloting is the expansion of Lotto Express to self-serve grocery checkouts.
By focusing as an industry on digital integration of our business, we’re best positioned to inspire our players to dream, connect, play and be entertained – anytime and any place they choose.