If there is one positive from our current situation, it is that more of the general public understands how important lotteries are to state revenues. It is so encouraging to hear different interest groups throughout the country describe lottery games as important products for lottery retailers, and many of those retailers have been deemed essential businesses. We have heard concerns from some members of the public and the media questioning if lotteries are really essential businesses, and they can’t understand why we’re still operating. We’ve tried to communicate that while lottery is considered entertainment by some, it also helps fund essential services in the community. We need to continue to communicate that message.
I was speculating with some friends that prohibiting social interaction with their social groups would make young people bored. But I was shocked when most told me that their children were adapting just fine and were continuing to interact with their friends as usual, through online channels. This generation has different needs in terms of socializing.
We have had to waive quite a few of our current policies to allow operations to continue uninterrupted. When you’re working with small businesses and financial issues, particularly in times of crisis, you need to help them and also look for opportunities. They have been through a lot and they need our help in re-building.
And this has an impact on the lottery industry in that we will need to ensure that our products are available via multiple distributions channels, including online. Those of us who grew up with perhaps more social contact, particularly at retail, think of a store as the place to purchase lottery products. Younger people interact online and they are much more comfortable with the online channel.
We know from past experience that in times of crisis, the state legislature is more receptive to the contributions that lottery makes if allowed to pursue new strategies to generate revenue. The state budget will be significantly impacted for the next year or more which may cause the legislature to look more favorably on new lottery initiatives. If we show policymakers that we can provide added value during this difficult time, perhaps there is an opportunity for online sales.
As long as there are lotteries, retailers will be critical drivers of sales. Lotteries have to continue to support their retailer networks, particularly as we begin to emerge from the economic damage of the past few months. As an industry, we are always looking for ways to reinforce and build on the symbiotic relationship we have with retailers. Is there anything about this crisis or emerging from this crisis that we use to our advantage to move our retailer relationships forward? As I mentioned, we have been extremely flexible with our retailers during the lockdown. And we need to continue to listen to their concerns as we go forward. They have been on the frontline of this pandemic and there will certainly be fallout from that stress. Maybe this is a time for us to hold retailer panels, at least virtually, to hear their concerns firsthand.
Of course, in time, Washington’s Lottery employees will be back in the field visiting retailers face-to-face (or perhaps mask-to-mask). We will return to our important tasks of restocking tickets, distributing POS material and performing all the field operational tasks. And we will begin to return to the lottery’s offices. Most of our customer service centers are behind glass but that’s not so for our lottery kiosks. I think naturally there will be some fears and we will need to think about how we support people during the transition. Our job as leaders will be to kind of normalize and allow people to re-adjust. That will be challenging.
Those challenges will perhaps not be as drastic as moving an entire workforce to at-home status. Many of the lottery’s employees were working at home for the first time in their careers. At first, we were all unsure how this would work but now we see, OK, we made this happen. Some of these positions we never considered for telework before and everyone found a way to make it work. In every crisis there’s opportunity.