‘Western Lotto Brings Hope to the Masses’

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Interview

Elvis Krivokuca, graduate of Harvard Business School 2012, came to Nigeria with an eye on investment. He tells the story of how the country that gave him a large canvas to invest through the lottery business, even when his fellow Croatians were skeptical about making Nigeria a business destination. He speaks with Nduka Nwosu

What is your track record?
I studied Hotel Management with emphasis on gaming casinos and entertainment business, at the University of Eriakea, Croatia; I went to the Diplomatic Academy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Zagreb primarily because of my love for languages; I speak German, English and Italian, worked with a retail company with over 8000 stores in Europe, then a real estate department specialising in property development.

I did a general management programme at Harvard in 2012 with chairmen and CEOs from great organisations such as CISCO and Facebook. Yes Zuckeberg was not there but there were other world renowned CEOs such as the CISCO CEO for Latin and South America participating in the HBS 2012. That same year a Nigerian friend Othonye Efebo of AA Rescue-Nigeria’s diversified motor services company, who is also an alumnus of HBS 2012, invited me to visit the country to explore the prospects of attracting some organisations to invest here. Before now we knew of the logistics company Intels.  When I arrived here, I fell in love with the country, the climate has similarities with my country Croatia, which in fact could be hotter; except for the mosquitoes. I saw a lot of opportunities here and got involved in a mining business-dolomite in Niger State. Nigerians are happy in spite of all of these and my wife, a Nigerian and I have a daughter who has three nationalities.

Can you tell us more about your organisation, Western Lotto Lottery?
Western Lotto Nigeria Limited is an entertainment and gaming company with platforms that provide a bouquet of international games for players in Nigeria. Western Lotto is licensed in Nigeria by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission to operate terrestrial and online platforms for gaming activities including lotteries, lotto, instant draw, indoor games, betting and online scratch card games, among others.

We seek at Western Lotto to create opportunities ultimately in employment, wealth and empowerment for people in Nigeria and across Africa. Patrons will derive fun from the games, while there would be job creation on our extended value-chain of distributors, agents, business centres, portals, and several suppliers.
It is important as we commence to make some clarifications and definitions. Our explanation concerns the nature of lottery as entertainment.

What is lottery business all about?
It is a gaming business with so much attraction and hope for the masses; it also brings shared wealth to the communities and countries where they operate. Unlike gambling it has less risk element attached to it. Simply put you pick six numbers plus one in the US before the numbers are drawn from a Powerball. Every seven days you stand the chance of winning and you become wealthier as you play more successful numbers when the polls are drawn. Here in the country you can play from N50 to a N100 which is very, very affordable and is not meant to put a strain on your purse. You can win with three numbers, four numbers or six numbers. Of course luck plays an important role here.
Lotteries are number-based games of chance used mainly for entertainment, winning prizes and redistribution of wealth.

The lottery is distinct from gambling. The stakes are very high in gambling. People bet with expensive items including houses, cars, and even wives. A lottery is a numbers game of chance for entertainment and recreation that carries much less risk. Unlike the high stakes of gambling, lottery deals with small stakes. Participants spend small change, like N50 or N100, to win great prizes.

Lotteries are fun, entertaining and can be very rewarding. We offer hope, one of the major propellers of life for human beings everywhere.
There is another consideration. It goes without saying that gambling benefits only those directly involved; it is a winner takes all, whereas the proceeds of the regulated lottery have been used to promote good developmental causes in many countries.

Whereas we have national and state lottery companies, ours is a private lottery company. Lottery business has grown beyond profit to an active involvement in corporate social responsibility activities. So it is also all about shared wealth. In the UK for example, Lotto was very much involved in the London Olympics where it contributed over two billion pounds as its contribution to the success of the project. Just at the close of the London Olympics, Dianne Thompson the CEO of Camelot, the National Lottery operator, revealed that Britain’s National Lottery has been a huge success in deploying the people’s money for useful ventures including the successful organisation of the London Olympics donating 2.2 billion pounds for infrastructure development of the Olympics Park, paid for by National Lottery players.

According to Thompson, the National Lottery has spent £4 billion directly on sports since 1994 and that 86 per cent of athletes in Team GB received some form of Lottery support hinting that the National Lottery would be contributing more in the next phase of British sporting development in the run-up to the Games in Rio than it has for London. This is corporate social responsibility at its highest even in sports where the proportion of Lottery money going into elite sport is increasing while Government investment or expenditure is coming down Western Lotto Lottery intends to do same here. We shall champion big
ticket expenditure in the polity to show how useful lottery revenue can be to the larger society.

Why the emphasis on huge public expenditure?
The emphasis underlines the huge responsibility of the Lotto business in dong public good across time and space. As far back as 20 B.C. when the barbarians attacked China, and the Chinese Government didn’t have enough money to build up their defence, they ran a lottery and raised adequate funds to build up their defences, including the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Can you beat that?

Lotteries in Colonial America played a significant part in the financing of both private and public ventures. Records show that the authorities approved more than 200 lotteries between 1744 and 1776, and they played a significant role in financing roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, bridges. In the 1740s, lotteries financed the foundations of Princeton and Columbia Universities. The Academy Lottery helped fund that of the University of Pennsylvania in 1755.

In South Africa, for instance, 82 percent of the population play the lottery, at least, once in a week. In 2012 alone, experts put the lottery share of funds to the country’s finances at about N141.3 billion.
Also in Niger Republic, the proceeds of the lottery were used to build boreholes, fight against desert encroachment, while many of the lottery winners are sponsored to Mecca to perform Holy Pilgrimages.

Propelled by these laudable initiatives and the need to contribute its quota to national development, some young and dynamic Nigerians established Western Lotto Nigeria Limited in 2015 to carry out the business of lotteries, promos and casinos in Nigeria.
We are committed to promoting global best practices in our operations as we positively impact lives through good causes. We will be speaking soon on the variousinitiatives that Western Lotto would be promoting.

We already have a partnership with the Rape Foundation to fight the incidence of rape in the country. We also have our brand ambassadors-celebrities in the entertainment industry, whose foundations we intend to partner with. We shall go into such other projects as infrastructure development, repairs and rehabilitation of roads and bridges et al. The list is quite comprehensive.

What is the difference between lottery and gambling?
The stakes are much higher in gambling and it is a winner takes all whereas in lottery the number of those who won in a particular category get paid the quoted amount. In gambling you wager money or some valuable item on an event such as boxing or football whose outcome is uncertain. The spinning of a roulette wheel or the outcome of a horse race can determine the winner for example. Here we are playing with a lot of people, with the masses. There is a spread of wealth in a pyramid form. For example if ten percent of those who played the Powerball for example wins, every winner gets the quoted prize; they don’t have to share the amount placed on the game.  I can share my own experience with you. Every week I play the Euro jackpot, which is very popular in Croatia especially now that it has an online platform and all Croatia lottery balls are drawn in Finland gets a draw every Friday. If you played with one or two euros you have the possible chance of winning #70 million euros. That means 10 percent of those who played will get wealthier by 70 million euros each. That’s the idea of wealth spread to the masses.

Can you define your games and expectations?
Western Lotto Nigeria Limited is a Nigerian company with international partners who have a track record of performance and integrity in the international lottery business. We are commencing with five games. They are Powerball, Euro Millions, Euro Jackpot, UK Lotto and Mega Millions. Powerball is an American lottery game played every Wednesday and Saturday. Euro Millions is a transnational lottery played across Europe. The Euro Jackpot similarly plays across Europe. UK Lotto is also known as the UK National Lottery. It has served good causes in the UK.  Draws for MegaMillions hold on Tuesdays and Fridays. Our unique offerings also come with the ease of play. Just pick your six (6) numbers correctly, and you are on your way to winning. Once you match three (3) numbers, you start winning.

We also pride ourselves in the privacy, dynamism and accessibility that our platform offers. You can play via USSD, mobile apps, online, shops and terminals. If you win, we will notify you immediately. You will get a text or email confirming your winning. Your winning code can be paid via the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) of the Quick teller (for smaller amounts), or walk into any bank branch to collect their winnings.

However, if you win big, you come to our Head Office on Victoria Island, Lagos, to receive your money or state however you desire that we pay you.

So the game is on and what has the response been like?
These are confidential issues and I cannot disclose details because we are in a competitive industry where we are recognised as a private lottery company. Having sad that, the game is on and the response has been fantastic but I am not going to give numbers as you requested. Besides we are a private, not government controlled Lottery Company but certainly to again respond to your question we are heading for the multi-million target and your projection of 10 million players is obviously not a benchmark. Our call centre is available from 7 am to 11 pm to respond to questions and assist those who need help.

Since lottery is also a game that is liquidity based, are you partnering with banks?
We are in partnership with banks and names will be known when we run our campaign where they will be mentioned. This is not the time for it.

What is the difference between Western Lotto Lottery packages and those of other companies in the country?
We are technology based and in partnership with existing lottery companies in Europe and the US. We do not have any influence on the numbers, we have no control over the numbers played. This is driven by luck. The local lottery companies depend on the fixed odd system. If you match one of two numbers correctly, the chances of winning are guaranteed. There is no manipulation.

So what is the element of trust that guards against manipulation?
The business cannot exist without trust. We are not saying there is anything suggesting manipulation elsewhere. Here the game is internet driven and results are announced by the principals. Emphasis is on flexibility, accessibility and once you match the figures correctly, your pay is guaranteed. We have POS terminals deployed to the markets. However this is a technology driven lottery game.
We catch on the derivatives of existing lotto companies. Our customers are rest assured the numbers chosen get paid once they are correctly matched.

What is your game plan to take a sizeable share of the market?
We are in partnership with established lotto and lottery companies with a global track record. Our platform is accessible right inside your bedroom. Our foreign technical partners are credible and we are technology driven, making the human interface almost non-existent. We are real time compliant. You don’t have to go to a kiosk, Motor Park or somewhere else to stay on the queue.

Your product seems to have appeal for the upper and middle classes, how then do you ensure there is mass appeal for the grassroots that constitute the millions currently patronising the market?
We also have the POS system to cater for this category. These terminals are deployed in designated shops, markets, communities, designated places et al. We are in partnership with some of the auto-agents while many more have indicated interest to do business with us. We are in business for them and for us; that is why we are asking them to see things in a different perspective including those who have not been playing lottery because they feel it is gambling, which is wrong because lottery is not gambling.

In gambling the stakes are higher. In lottery the winning spread is higher and the revenue goes into addressing corporate social responsibility issues. Right now we have a partnership with a Rape Foundation and we intend to go into different activities which will remain beneficial to the larger community. We will sponsor sports and other recreational activities. Indirectly you are helping your neighbor one or the other when you play lottery, win or lose.

Are religious bodies against lottery?
No because lottery is not gambling. In the US for example, Las Vegas a tourist attraction centre was built on gambling with such games as the Black Jack and Roulette. So many people come to Las Vegas to see the attractive city of gambling and certain designated areas of Nevada. Now it is more of a tourist attraction centre but lottery here is a totally different experience. It is like drinking coffee every day. I play lottery regularly and once I do I feel  like I am a millionaire already and I don’t want to know the results until Sunday. If I don’t win, maybe I won hundred or two hundred euros, I look forward to the next week. It is pure fun and entertainment and we are glad someone won.

What about the scratch card system?
That is more of gambling because I have no possibility of knowing how the human angle has permeated into it. No one is saying so but we are human beings. We are flesh and blood and cannot control everything.
Ours is a simple entertaining system which also aims at helping to advance good causes. We have started with this platform and as we progress we will introduce more platforms that offer higher incentives to the players.

There is no mathematics attached to lottery. So what is the guarantee of the ease of winning?
There is a mathematics. Some play as a team, like a village or community does. The community won big time and everybody in the community that took part in the game became rich. People don’t get addicted to lottery because it is fun.

What is your expansion plan?
We intend to go beyond Nigeria. With the internet, the global village is within reach.
We intend to be the pre-eminent gaming operator in Africa while the mission is to provide an entertainment and empowerment platform and embark on good causes that positively impact on the lives of Africans.