Lynne Roiter, President & Chief Executive Officer, Loto-Québec

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Lynne Roiter, President & Chief Executive Officer, Loto-Québec

We never expected to one day be faced with closing our casinos and gaming halls while at the same time ceasing all retail lottery sales. COVID-19 has given a whole new meaning to the notions of business continuity and crisis management, presenting challenges but also opportunities for each of our business sectors.

We recognize early on the potential threat posed by COVID-19 as we observed the situation of our colleagues in Asia and Europe, and we immediately began to fine tune our business continuity plan. Our plan was inspired by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s keynote speech on preparedness that he gave at the 2016 World Lottery Summit in Singapore. In it, he explained the “what will kill us next” mantra used by astronauts during their two-year pre-launch training to prepare for emergencies. Thanks to this approach, we already had in place all the measures required when the work from home order was given.

We quickly modified our systems to enable draws to be performed remotely and added servers to accommodate for the likely increased demand in online gaming, ensuring that our website remained up and running throughout the critical period. As the casinos closed, we were already equipping approximately 90% of our non public-facing work force—more than 1,000 people—so they could work from home in a technologically secure environment behind Loto-Québec’s firewall. We also established means to provide weekly updates on the latest developments to all of our personnel, including casino and gaming hall floor staff and other employees who do not work at a computer.

When the public health emergency became apparent, our first priority was the health and wellbeing of our customers and employees. Concrete measures were taken in all of our establishments while a multi-sector Hygiene Plus committee studied the customer and employee journeys in our establishments and at our administrative offices, ensuring work spaces and gaming areas were reconfigured to respect new public health guidelines. Posters detailing guidelines on social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting surfaces, hand washing as well as elevator and stairway etiquette have been developed in order to ensure a safe return to the workplace for our employees and customers alike.

In stores, we collaborated with retailers to make sure our products were sold in a safe environment. For instance, posters were printed to inform retailers and their customers of the public health measures to adhere to on both sides of the counter. Scroll messages to the same effect appear on retailers’ game terminals. This collaboration strengthened the already strong bond between Loto-Québec and its retail network. The readiness with which retailers implemented safety measures and made any necessary adjustments we asked of them gave us the full measure of just how much they regard our product.

After closing our casinos and gaming halls at the request of the government, we donated $1,000,000 as well as foodstuffs from our warehouses to food banks. In addition, we sent over 35,000 N95 masks to health authorities. In April, we partnered up with chefs across Québec, reopening casino kitchens in order to supply tens of thousands of meals every week to people in need. All sponsorships in our $10,000,000 program were maintained in order to aid of major festivals in weathering the storm and we reinforced responsible gaming messages and measures in light of the increase in online play.

Restarting in the new COVID-19 world is an opportunity for us to rethink our business models in a positive way. We will need to adapt them in order to take into consideration the new attitudes of consumers.

During the 6-week suspension of retail lottery sales, we witnessed how much the lottery plays an integral role in the daily lives of so many of our customers. The pleasure they take in managing their lottery portfolios provided us new insight on our responsibility to supply customers with an easily accessible and multi-faceted offering.

Casinos will also be under pressure to provide customers with virtual options. Even after social distancing becomes less critical, many players may be reluctant to play in traditional casino settings. Providing them with easy access to online alternatives will be crucial. What’s more, by bolstering our online casino offering, we will be giving players who live far from bricks-and-mortar gaming establishments access to new forms of entertainment.

During these first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen exponential growth in the number of customers playing the lottery on loto-quebec.com. Although customers who purchase lotteries online tend to maintain their level of purchases at retail points of sale, the increase in their numbers on online platforms is not without risk. Contrary to retail, the online market is fraught with parasitical lotteries and illegal gaming platforms who, unlike government lottery and gaming corporations, offer little to no responsible gaming measures and whose revenues do not serve the common good.

In this context, it will be increasingly important for state-run entities to build on the goodwill they have established over the years by showcasing their commitment to both social responsibility and responsible gaming principles. Our corporate responsibility efforts during this crisis call attention to the core differences between Loto-Québec and parasitical and illegal operators that our customers may encounter as they begin to play online in greater proportions. Now is the time to show our customers that we constitute the most reliable and trustworthy purveyor of lotteries and gaming products.