Olli Sarekoski: gaming monopoly "enjoys widespread support among Finns"

Olli Sarekoski: gaming monopoly "enjoys widespread support among Finns"

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Veikkaus merger on track for 1 January completion

The final preparations are being made ahead of the merger between Finnish betting and gaming firms Veikkaus, RAY and Fintoto. With just three weeks to go before the group commences operations, chief executive Olli Sarekoski discusses the integration process and outlines his top priorities for 2017.

On 17 September 2015, Finland’s Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy approved the high-profile merger of the country’s three gambling operators: Veikkaus, Fintoto and Raha-automaattiyhdistys (RAY).

Veikkaus is the Finnish national lottery. The company has an exclusive legal betting licence on lotteries and sports betting in Finland.

Fintoto is wholly owned by Suomen Hippos Ry, the Finnish Trotting and Breeding Association, and is the only company authorised by the Lotteries Act to conduct horse betting activities in Finland.

RAY, meanwhile, operates slot machines and casino-style games in cafés, restaurants and standalone arcades. It also controls the country’s only fully-fledged casino property, Casino Helsinki.

Following a lengthy consultation process, it was announced in June that Finland’s new gambling monopoly will operate under a revamped Veikkaus lottery brand, and that the company would start operations on 1 January 2017.

Discussing the integration of the three companies, group CEO Olli Sarekoski said: “Over the past few months we have focused on planning our 2017 operations and budgeting, as well as launching the new company. The merger has proceeded according to plan and is on schedule.

“In addition to working on the structure, we naturally need to combine numerous systems. For example, we are currently building a single joint web gaming service. We are building the organisation and have started a programme for shared corporate culture work and change management.”

During the consultation process, proponents of the merger argued the move would strengthen the Finnish gambling monopoly by establishing a single, wholly state-owned company to operate gambling in the country.

“The gaming monopoly system enjoys widespread support among Finns,” Sarekoski told TotallyGaming.com. “However, the monopoly system based on three gaming operators can no longer optimally respond to the demands of the gaming market, which is being digitalised and revised at a fast pace.

“The merger enables us to offer our customers more interesting games and better service. This way, the new company helps us to channel gaming towards domestic games that are legally operated and safe.”

The monopoly system, according to Sarekoski, is an efficient means of preventing misuse related to gaming and reducing the detriments of gaming. “The new gaming company will be able to develop better tools for helping problem gamblers to control their gaming by introducing a single player register,” he stated.

“We strongly believe that the merger of the gaming operators will provide us with a good chance to offer our customers enhanced customer experiences by applying the ‘single-counter principle’.

“The game portfolio of the new Veikkaus will be extensive, ranging from slot machines to toto games, from Lotto to web casino games. In addition, we will also be able to offer new types of games in the future, including virtual betting and combinations of different games.”

For the past eight years Sarekoski has been executive vice president of the state-owned lottery operator, responsible for the company’s overall business operations.

Discussing the decision to adopt the name of the country’s existing lottery brand, Veikkaus, Sarekoski said: “The name and identity of the new company were designed on the basis of an extensive multi-stage consumer survey. During the spring 2016, a total of 4,300 Finns took part in the different stages of the survey.

“According to the survey, two out of three Finns feel that Veikkaus is a suitable name for the new gaming company. Finnish consumers are familiar with it and it represents security and responsibility.”

The strength of the Veikkaus brand was underlined earlier this year, when the company announced that revenues in 2015 – the group’s 75th anniversary year – were up seven per cent to €3bn, driven by strong growth in its digital channel.

As the new Veikkaus group prepares to commence operations on January 1, Sarekoski said: “The beginning of 2017 will be dedicated to securing the GGR and the continuity of the operations in the middle of the change. In addition to product and service development, we will create tools for successful digital business operations of the new company. It is also important to create a united Veikkaus culture.”

TotallyGaming says: With 1.9 million Finnish customers, revenues for the newly-formed Veikkaus are projected to be around €1bn in 2017. However, once the integration process is complete, the group will be primed to tap further growth, as it leverages new synergies across its range of integrated platforms.

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