Published: January 29, 2023

Romana Girandon, president of the board of Loterija Slovenije: Interview

Companies without a purpose beyond mere profit making will not have the support of the community in the future

A key goal for us is to maintain high standards in the field of responsible gambling, which means that we are ambitious and ethical at the same time, that we are successful in business and that we do not produce addiction, says Romana Girandon, president of Loterija Slovenije. 

On an annual basis, Loterija Slovenije returns more than 80 percent of its income to Slovenian society through winnings, concessions, taxes and other duties, explains Romana Girandon , president of Loterija Slovenije, in an interview. And she warns that gambling in the wrong hands can have many negative social consequences. The interlocutor is also the vice-president of the Association of European Lotteries and the president of the European group for sustainability and responsible organization of games of chance. Last October, it was included in the Lottery Industry Hall of Fame in Vancouver as the only European lottery.

Can you tell us more about the mission and social role of Loterija Slovenije?

At the Lottery of Slovenia (LS), together with our colleagues, we create lottery games that are fun, but at the same time safe. This means that we mainly want to spread joy and hope with them, without having negative social consequences. Our key financial impact is that by organizing lottery games, together with the players, we collect funds for Slovenian disabled, humanitarian and sports organizations.

Last year, we collected 20.5 million euros in concession fees, and in the last ten years, these funds totaled more than 200 million euros. The concession fee from the organization of classic games of chance is fully received by the Foundation for Financing Disability and Humanitarian Organizations (FIHO) and the Sports Foundation (FŠO), which are also shareholders of the company, so they also receive funds from dividends - they will also receive them for last year . 

At the same time, last year we distributed seven million different winnings worth 70 million euros among our players. Otherwise, we pay an average of 11 million euros in taxes from gambling on an annual basis, while Slovenian municipalities receive an average of 3.5 million euros annually. Let me emphasize that on an annual basis, we return more than 80 percent of our income to Slovenian society through winnings, concessions, taxes and other duties.

What is special about the business model of the Lottery of Slovenia?

The business model of lotteries around the world, including ours, is very special and has a long history. Already in 1441, i.e. before America was discovered and Christopher Columbus was not even born, the Belgians already organized a lottery in the city of Bruges. Every resident could buy a lottery ticket for a small amount, and in the public draw, the official in the town square drew from two baskets, namely from the first basket the names of the participants, and from the second basket the winnings, which were gold coins, goblets... Lucky, who hit the main prize that changed his life, and got a shop or trade in the center of Bruges. And the point here is that almost 600 years ago and even today, the city of Bruges collected funds for the public good, for all residents, by organizing a lottery. With the aforementioned funds, they paid off the city's debts, strengthened the city walls,

And from then until today, this model is still similar. Namely, we are creating a platform in which a large number of people participate with small amounts, thereby creating the conditions for a big win - a jackpot or a seven - that someone can hit and it can change their life. The special feature of Slovenia among other lotteries is that we are a very small market with two million inhabitants, and we only participate with adults.

It is essential that the games are not addictive; this is our first role. At the same time, we collect funds with them for the public good - in the case of Slovenia, for the FIHO and FŠO foundations. FIHO has 350,000 users of these funds, and their families also indirectly have some of the funds. At the Sports Foundation, one part of the funds goes to top sports, while the other part goes to numerous halls, playgrounds, etc., which can be used by absolutely everyone.

 Even though Loterija Slovenije is one of the smallest operators of games of chance in Europe, you became the vice-president of the Association of European Lotteries. What is your role in it? And what roles do lotteries play elsewhere in Europe?

The Slovenian Lottery significantly exceeds its size in the international arena. The Association of European Lotteries has more than 70 members, which together employ 47,000 people and have 430,000 points of sale. And because Slovenia is such a small market for lottery games, we are practically not on the financial graphs, but that's why we are everywhere else. At the general meeting, I was elected vice-president of the Association of European Lotteries, and I am also the president of the European group for sustainability and responsible gambling. My colleagues participate in various European groups, such as for innovation. On the one hand, they are there for their knowledge, but at the same time they also learn a lot and bring new good practices.

In recent years, the Lottery of Slovenia has become one of the most internationally connected and respected lotteries in Europe, which is strategically important. Due to the small size of the country, this is a way to give Slovenians access to the biggest international games. And if we started from scratch, in recent years we have already generated 40 percent of our turnover through international cooperation. We are founding members of the international game Eurojackpot (a total of 33 lotteries participate) and equal partners of the Nordic game Vikinglotto, and we also lead the Association of Lotteries from the territory of the former Yugoslavia. In the international arena, the key is trust, which is built over the long haul. We have the knowledge, we are ambitious and development-oriented, and at the same time ethical - this is recognized abroad, so it doesn't matter if we are the smallest.

You were inducted into the Lottery Industry Hall of Fame in Vancouver last October. What does that mean to you?

This is recognition for all of us who work for the Lottery of Slovenia and shows our recognition even outside the borders of Europe. Last October, in Canada, I was the only one from European lotteries to be named to the Lottery Industry Hall of Fame. I received a prestigious statuette at the level of the World Lottery Association for historical achievements in the field of lottery development. We work both in the field of development and in the field of sustainability.

Established in 2005, 98 people from around the world have been inducted into the Lottery Industry Hall of Fame to date. Every few years they invite someone new, and this year they also proposed me. New members, who are then voted on, can only be proposed by existing members. The awarding ceremony took place at the end of the World Lotteries Congress, which takes place every two to three years.

In recent years, we have generated 40 percent of our turnover through international cooperation.

What is responsible gambling and what is investing in its development?

Responsible gaming is the essence of sustainable lotteries. It is about acting consciously in a way that leaves no victims behind. This means that we systematically and systematically develop and design our games and services in such a way that they are not addictive. Two areas are key here: preventing excessive gaming and protecting minors.

There's an expert behind the anti-gaming system. It is about adaptability factors, risk assessment from the conceptual design itself through all stages of the creation of a product or service, behavioral analytics, monitoring of the impact on the population, training of colleagues and sales staff, and public awareness.

Concretely, as an investment in development, this means that, for example, this year we will introduce artificial intelligence on the digital platform for the early recognition of potentially risky behaviors. When it comes to preventing overgaming, it's not just what you do that matters – it's also what you don't do. That, for example, you don't make games with extremely high jackpots or games with a mountain of small wins. Or games that make you feel like you can influence the outcome, even though you really can't, and the like.

In Slovenia, the Gambling Act does not prohibit the participation of minors, but regardless of this, we act in such a way that we do not appeal to minors, we constantly raise awareness and have protocols for sales staff in cases where a minor finds themselves in front of them - this year we will therefore have a campaign under password Think 18+. In December, with the Donate campaign , we communicated responsibly that lottery games are not games for children. It is not unusual for children to be introduced to gambling by adults giving them a lottery ticket - but it is known that if you often encounter something like this at a young age, it is a risk factor for later problems.

And how successful are you at it?

Every year, our system of responsible gaming is reviewed by an independent external auditor. At the last assessment, we scored 94 out of 100 points. You can raise funds for the public good, but if you act in a way that is harmful, you have done nothing.

At the same time, we also cooperate with experts from the Outpatient Clinic for the Prevention of Non-Chemical Addiction in Nova Gorica, and the data show that our games do not cause addiction. However, in their work there is a lot of emphasis on digital addictions, especially among young people, which is a social problem today. This is also why we finance lectures in primary schools to raise awareness among children and their parents about the dangers of non-chemical addiction. Hidden games of chance are also a problem, where children buy, for example, clothes, models... and don't know what they will get inside computer games. There is a lot of talk about this at the European level.

How can you realize your socially responsible mission?

If the concrete financial impact, in terms of financing disability, humanitarian and sports organizations, is very easy to measure and is built into the very essence of our society, this is not enough. Because it only tells where the money goes, but says nothing about how society got it. 

Responsible gaming is the essence of sustainable lotteries.

The key for us is the responsible arrangement of games. In addition, we do not leave behind a negative impact on society and the environment. We create a fair and safe working environment, we provide work with meaning, which is not self-evident and is seen as very important in our society. At the same time, we are building an inclusive society, not only internally, but also externally, advocating for gender equality, equality for people with disabilities and the elderly, and ensuring digital and physical accessibility for everyone.

In the area of ​​the environment, we measure and reduce our carbon footprint, we use exclusively FSC-certified paper for our products, i.e. paper from sustainably managed forests. We have our own solar power plant on the roof of our office building. But we still have many plans and commitments for the future.

Why must gambling be regulated and why is the liberalization of the field dangerous and harmful?

Gambling in the wrong hands can have many negative social consequences, from addiction to crime, money laundering, fraud. It is important to know that, unlike other commercial companies, in fact, any gambling operator can double or even triple its turnover very quickly. At what price? Something similar has already happened with games in markets in the neighborhood, also in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pools for winnings can be as high as 97%, games are extremely fast or give you the feeling that you can influence the outcome with your knowledge. Similarly controversial is the large number of small winnings that players return to the game. Such an offer is not better, but it is more addictive.

The data shows that this creates a huge amount of traffic. On the face of it, to someone unfamiliar with the field, this would appear to be a success. However, we must know that with huge traffic, addiction also grows and the level of crime increases; and for the public good there is not much left for the 97% funds for winnings.

In addition, in the liberalized market, profits go into private hands, instead of remaining with the state or entities connected to it, as is the case in Slovenia. The resulting addiction burdens people and their families.

The international profession is clear: gambling addiction is the most hidden addiction of all, and one addict has a negative effect on eight people around him. In addition, both they and the state are burdened by the costs of treatment. Last year, the University of Zagreb did an extensive study on this and found that the socio-economic costs, i.e. treatment, economic problems, job losses, etc., according to two internationally recognized methodologies, amount to between 34 and 77 percent of everything that gambling organizers generate .

What are the sustainability challenges for your company? And what does an example in the field of sustainable development mean in the world of lotteries? 

Romana Girandon: "Despite" the responsible hosting of the games, our business results and all financial indicators are excellent and the company is growing.   A key goal for us is to maintain high standards in responsible gaming. This means that we are ambitious and ethical at the same time, that we are successful in business and that we are not addictive. This is the law for lotteries. In addition to the previously mentioned, there are broader sustainability commitments, namely the creation of physical gaming without a carbon footprint, the full accessibility of physical sales points and the closing of new circular loops.

 At the international level, we are initiators of both development and international sustainability initiatives. We lead a project of mandatory independent certification of responsible gambling for all 70 members of the Association of European Lotteries. We are also the initiators of the initiative on the use of FSC certified paper and the initiative within the framework of which our members measure and reduce their carbon footprint.

How sustainable, ethical and humanitarian orientation are perceived by your customers and employees? How can this positive note be part of a competitive advantage?

The awareness that you are participating in something larger than yourself is important for both players and colleagues. The data show that this is also a competitive advantage. Survey data show that employees identify with the mission and values ​​of our company - in one of the surveys, employees with a score of 4.4 out of 5 rated that the mission and vision fill them with the feeling that their contribution is important; and 4.6 out of 5 expressed pride in being members of this company. Even when measuring engagement, we are well above the Slovenian and international average.

The last survey among players, which was completed in November, showed that 1.2 million adult Slovenians cooperate with us, which represents 70 percent of the adult population. At the same time, they said that they value an internationally comparable offer and a safe playing environment. User experience and satisfaction ratings at points of sale are very good. And the latest research also showed that a new segment of players has formed, who participate not only for the sake of winning, but mainly because they participate in collecting funds for disabled, humanitarian and sports organizations.

Above all, the business results speak for themselves about what the players think - "despite" the responsible arrangement of the games, our business results and all financial indicators are excellent and the company is growing. Companies without a purpose beyond mere profit making will not have community support in the future, will not have loyal customers, and will not have the best staff. Even today, research shows that as many as nine out of ten young people from Generation Z would immediately change their brand to a more sustainable one or one with meaning. I believe that in the future the most successful companies will be those that know how to combine development and ethical operations. We will be among them.

Promotion of sports for the disabled is also important to you, so you cooperate with the Association for Sport of the Disabled in Slovenia - the Slovenian Paralympic Committee. How do you support them?

Together with the Association for Sport of Disabled People of Slovenia, we have developed a cooperation of which we are extremely proud. Athletes with disabilities are the personification of our mission and the intersection of everything we do at the lottery every day. That's why we always help popularize their spirit and strive to contribute to the visibility and attention they deserve. For example, before going to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, we released a special lottery ticket called Paralympian.

 Last year we collected 20.5 million euros in concession fees, and in the last 10 years we have collected more than 200 million euros.

 At the same time, they have become an indispensable part of our culture, and we consider ourselves ambassadors of parasport. With their periodic visits, they bring invincible energy to our collective and are an example to us. Recently, my colleagues and fans participated in a para-basketball tournament organized by the said Association and we actually tested what it's like to play basketball sitting down.

In what ways are you taking new steps in the field of accessibility and equal opportunities for people with disabilities?

The digital platform, which is one of the largest online stores in the country, has obtained the A3C online accessibility certificate. This is a certificate according to the WCAG international guidelines, which means that everyone can actively participate, including people with different disabilities.

We strive for complete accessibility of physical sales points, both technically and from the point of view of the knowledge of the sales staff. Our key influence for disability and humanitarian organizations is that with us, concession funds are not some by-product, as we do not make any decision without looking at how it may affect their financial resources.

For more than 20 years, you have been leading companies and teams of various sizes. What is your leadership style?

I like people and I like to cooperate. I believe that every individual is important and that the community is important. I believe in development and in leading with the power of a mission, I believe in connecting and leading with integrity. I think a good leader is not the one who is the loudest, but the one who actually supports people to give their best as a team, for the benefit of all who make an economic society exist.

Working with a diverse team is more difficult, more demanding, but it is more beautiful and gives better results. The greater victory is that different people work together, that we find common denominators and that you hear different ideas from different people.

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