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Ten Years of iLottery in Michigan

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Michigan Lottery’s ground-breaking iLottery program.

 

By Patricia McQueen

June 25, 2024

NASPL Insights Online



In August 2014, the Michigan Lottery launched its online sales platform with a portfolio of eInstant games. It was the first American lottery to launch iLottery with eInstants, and just the fourth overall. There wasn’t much history in the U.S. for guidance – it was a true startup. “We had to rely on the internal leadership under then-Commissioner Scott Bowen and the digital team setting up the infrastructure, along with the expertise of a vendor whose only experience at the time was outside of North America,” explains Director of Digital Gaming Operations Zac Strickler, who joined the Lottery in 2018 and was named to his current position in December 2021.

 

He oversees 15 employees who handle iLottery and also support anything related to the Lottery’s website, mobile app, and any digital tools needed to benefit retail sales. It’s a relatively new team, with almost half joining in 2022 or later, and Strickler has nothing but praise. “They are committed to giving players the best they can.” Most of them had no previous lottery experience; some were hired right out of college. “I look for ethics first, then drive, then skill.”


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Reflecting on the Michigan Lottery’s 10-year iLottery path, he is philosophical. “With any startup, you try to get things done as best you can, as quickly as you can. You are obviously looking forward to the future, but it’s hard to predict where you are going to end up. So down the road, after five years, and now after 10 years, we look for changes and make adjustments as the program matures. Probably the biggest hallmark of our successful 10-year journey is simply a consistent, constant improvement and a consistent, constant customer focus.”

 

Michigan is currently out to bid for a new iLottery vendor contract (the current one ends in July 2026), looking for another six-year contract with six one-year renewal options.

 

Regardless of the underlying system, there are also an ever-increasing number of independent game studios and Michigan is excited to bring in new content. In the beginning were eInstants from NeoGames; IWG and more recently IGT were added. Currently undergoing integration is EQL Games and Allwyn is on deck; those two should be ready to go by the end of the calendar year.

 


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Staying Competitive

New and innovative games will hopefully increase the Lottery’s player base. Michigan now has 2.2 million registered players, many of whom are retailer-focused, using their account primarily for ticket scanning and other retail purposes. Still, there are over a million depositors for iLottery play. Strickler estimates that only about 4.5 million adults in Michigan are in the “accessible” market of those who would consider online gambling of any kind, so having 2.2 million account holders is a very impressive number indeed.

 

Despite the proliferation of entertainment options today, after the pandemic turned things upside down, and challenges in the overall economy, online sales in Michigan set a record last year and is on track for similar performance this fiscal year, which ends in September. “It’s going very well.”

 

That means the Michigan Lottery has been successful reaching consumers in the state's competitive online environment where iLottery coexists with iGaming and sports betting, and there is also retail success. The Lottery has one big advantage over its competition: “We’re a state agency, and our integrity is above reproach.” Another selling point is that every decision the Lottery makes is based on the potential impact on the dollars raised for its beneficiary, the School Aid Fund. For Strickler, it’s personal. A former teacher himself, he comes from a family of teachers. “All of us know what we do benefits students, and it’s what drives us.”


 

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Michigan is a little different than other jurisdictions in that eInstants are viewed as games that simply provide a very interesting digital reveal of a scratch-off ticket. In that sense, the games are still a limited series similar to a printed ticket run. This perspective comes from unique state requirements that all games have to align with the general concept of traditional lottery games. However, that doesn’t limit constant improvements in the user interface, and just like on the retail side, there are various prize structures and imagery with something for everyone.

 

Strickler is very excited about recent advancements in customer engagement with powerful personalization tools, especially in-app messaging. With 82% of players using mobile devices, a mobile-first philosophy allows for the use of such messaging, which has produced extremely high levels of player engagement. There’s much more that can be done with personalization, giving players something that aligns with their demonstrated interests.

 

If he had to point to one other thing he’d most like to improve upon going forward, it would be speed. Speed in both flexibility and configuration to improve time to market and to make changes, and speed for the players when using the app. If a player has to wait for something to load, they could easily go elsewhere.



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Michigan Lottery Commissioner Suzanna Shkreli, who was appointed on March 1, summarized the importance of Michigan’s iLottery program:

 

“Since launching in 2014, the Michigan Lottery’s industry-leading iLottery program has become the standard bearer for online lottery programs in North America. The Lottery’s online portfolio features entertaining eInstant games and draw-based games that give Michiganders a chance to win multi-million-dollar jackpots. In an increasingly competitive online gaming marketplace in Michigan, the Lottery’s online games have provided nearly $1.2 billion to Michigan schools.

 

“The Michigan Lottery is committed to promoting responsible gaming and has been recognized as a pioneer when it comes to responsible gaming. Michigan was the first state lottery to receive certification of its online program through the National Council on Problem Gambling and has also attained Responsible Gaming Verification through the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

 

“Our team is focused on providing players with innovative games and responsible play resources, and I am looking forward to Michigan continuing to set the bar in the iLottery space.”






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