When Abby Morgan, Director of Marketing & Product Development, first joined the Oklahoma Lottery almost a year ago, her director, Jay Finks, gave her a small task: “I want to get rid of paper playslips, and I want to be the first to do it.”
There was a large reason the Oklahoma Lottery wanted to be the first. Paper playslips have existed for as long as lottery products have been sold. While most lottery players use quick-pick to automatically pick their numbers, players manually picked their numbers for between 10%-30% of draw game purchases in Oklahoma, depending on the game. For number games like Pick 3, over 80% of games were manually picked. Removing playslips from stores would be a radical change to the purchasing process, which is so often based on a player’s “lucky numbers” or superstitions.
While these concerns were top of mind for the lottery team, Finks and Morgan felt strongly that paper playslips didn’t fit into their vision for the future of the lottery. “How much time have we spent changing our playslips? We added a Monday draw; we changed our playslips. The matrix changes; we change our playslips,” Finks said. “Even though our vendor is responsible for paying for those, at the end of the day, the lottery is paying for that. I am using valuable resources to print and distribute paper. By eliminating it, how much time have we freed up for a sales rep to focus on sales?”
With the advent of smartphones, superannuated playslips were also holding the lottery back from connecting with younger demographics. Morgan and her agency have researched and implemented various campaigns to engage with 18- to 25-year-olds. The next generation of players is technology-savvy and more introverted. They prefer to bypass lines in a store by using their phones. “You must challenge yourself. Is a young player going to grab a scantron?” Finks asked. “Do they even know what a pen is?”
Despite the risks, Morgan and her team undertook a year-long process to replace and remove the playslips from their retailers. “Paper is going away everywhere,” Morgan said. “We wanted to modernize the business.”
The first step was to develop an app and website that would replace the playslips. If players had to change their purchasing behaviors without complaint, the substitute would have to be perfect. They spent a significant amount of time researching and planning their transition to a digital system, carefully considering what elements they wanted to keep and what they wanted to add, drawing inspiration from other lotteries and companies outside the industry.
For instance, they wanted the classic lottery app features. It needed a playslip builder and a ticket checker. But they also wanted some nice-to-have features; for instance, when the player showed the app to the retailer, the screen would automatically brighten to make it easier for the terminal to read.
Morgan realized early on that one of the biggest advantages of switching from paper to digital would be the increased traffic to their digital platform. By integrating the app with their existing systems, like their Players’ Club, they could potentially double their registrations. “The app would be the only place to log in to our Players’ Club. That’s been huge for us to get the app downloads and sign-ups.”
Once Morgan and her team determined the most appealing features, the lottery built the app in-house. It helped cut down costs while still providing a high-quality solution. “I have two people on staff that did it. It was a huge task,” Morgan said.
The app and website redesign took a little less than a year to finish. While the app was underway, the team looked to the next big hurdle: the retailers.
The plan was simple. Three months before they removed playslips from stores, they would soft launch the app and fix any issues. Once they were confident in the app, they would begin removing playslips.
The lottery did not make any announcement about removing playslips. No press release. No website announcement. No social media. A public declaration would only likely invite trouble. But it was also worried the soft launch could have an unintended consequence.
“We realized the retailers would end up telling people that this was happening, and that’s putting them in a tough position,” Morgan said.
The lottery team went store-to-store to speak with owners and managers about the change, giving the retailers numerous talking points about the advantages of the change. These included the benefits of modernizing their business, making it easier for players, appealing to younger demographics, and decluttering their store. “We tried to arm them with as much information and reasoning as possible,” Morgan said.
Morgan also gave them a suggestion for irate customers: “If there is anybody that is still upset, tell them it is all the lottery’s decision, and they are welcome to contact us.”
Most retailers embraced the change, but not all of them, which was a shock. “We didn’t plan for negative retailer feedback. We got way more of that than negative player feedback,” she said.
Even with months of advanced notice, when the lottery did come by to pick up the playstations, these few retailers refused to give them up. Due to the weight of the playstations, which were made of metal and plastic, it was impossible to move them without multiple people and a truck. It was frustrating to leave it behind. But the lottery wanted to stay on friendly terms with these rogue retailers. “We were OK with them refusing the first time, but we told them that we were going to come back eventually,” Morgan said.
It didn’t take long after they ran out of playslips to change their mind. Now, roughly 30 playstations remain in the field, and only because they are in remote locations.
The Oklahoma Lottery’s primary concern when transitioning to digital playslips was how their players would respond to the change. The worry was mostly for nothing. Whether it was the soft launch, well-designed app, or prepared retailers, they only received about 55 negative comments.
Of the few comments they did receive, most were not pleasant. “We were called all sorts of names, even cussed out. I would say like half of them said something along the lines of ‘not cool, man.’ But the other half were flat-out awful,” Morgan said. “There was a couple that thought it was a conspiracy. Those were the ones that made me laugh. They’re convinced that our app was tracking them to make sure they would not win.”
There were only a few road bumps outside of a few strong dissenters, which should be expected for any large project. For instance, if retailers had difficulty scanning players’ cracked screens or if, a player was struggling with the app, retailers would occasionally take the phone to help, which could result in some liability issues. “We made sure that the messaging was very clear that the phone should always be in the player’s possession and that they should not be touching it,” said Morgan.
A Seamless Transition: Analysis of Easy Pick Purchases Before and After Removal of Paper Playslips
A few polemic emails were worth the cost of business. The transition to digital playslips has been relatively seamless. Players still manually pick numbers at the same rate as before playslips were removed. Only 11-15% of players manually select their numbers, except for Pick 3, which is closer to 80%. “We thought that game would be the one that people would be the most upset about, but we haven’t seen any dip in sales,” Morgan said. “Actually, sales went up.”
Players have been using the app far more. In the first four months, the Build a Playslip feature doubled monthly usage. It leveled out afterward, but the lottery still sees huge spikes in usage during the large jackpot runs. The ticket checker usage has already increased by 101%. And Player Club registrations have grown by 22.4%.
As Morgan noted, “We’ve seen a rise in app usage. And that is really encouraging to us because it tells us that the app is becoming a more popular way for our players to interact with the lottery.”
The effort also opened opportunities for retailers. To fill the void of the missing playstations, the lottery offered to replace the space with digital signage and menu boards. “We’ve got several chains to agree to some tests for digital signage, and one that already loved the results of their tests and wants to do a larger pilot,” Morgan said.
The project took a year, and the lottery considers it a massive success. The biggest issue of the entire project turned out to be what to do with the old playstations. The team tried to recycle the old machines, but they contained too much metal, so they are currently in a warehouse until they can find a suitable way to dispose of them.
“We are so happy we did it. It was a little bit more work than we originally anticipated, only because of the logistics of removing them and building the digital piece, you know, so it did take more time and a little bit more effort and more meetings than I think any of us originally thought. But in the end, it was all worth it,” Morgan concluded.