10.05.2023

by Mateusz Mazur

Jesus Huerta: Social responsibility is one of the pillars of SELAE’s strategy

What is behind the success of the traditional Christmas lottery? Why El Gordo is so popular in Spain? What are SELAE’s plans and goals for the next months? Jesus Huerta, president and CEO of Sociedad Estatal Loterías y Apuestas del Estado, answered these and many other questions in an interview with iGamingExpress. 

Your lottery is famous for its traditional Christmas lottery, with millions of people participating. There is a reason why it is described as part of your tradition of experiencing Christmas. How do you still manage to maintain the cult of the lottery?

Let me tell you that the Christmas Draw is not just a lottery, it is a social phenomenon. We are not talking about “a Christmas Draw”, we talk about “THE Christmas Draw”, which is an essential part of the Spanish Christmas period. “El Gordo” is intertwined with Spanish society because it has a unique feature: the importance of sharing. Since its foundation, in 1812, the basis of its success lies on the fact that it is a lottery that people share. What really matters is not if “I win” the prize, individually; the most important thing is that if we win, we do it together.

For this reason, year after year, SELAE preserves and protects a unique tradition that belongs to Spanish culture. How do we do it? First of all, promoting the values that the Christmas Lottery shares with Spanish society: the importance of sharing, that I mentioned before, but also qualities such as generosity or solidarity. Of course, we develop a strategic communication focused on day to day lives. Everyone knows our Christmas Lottery commercials. And finally, we plan down to the smallest detail of the product: for instance, in 2020 we launched a golden design that makes the Christmas Lottery ticket even more special: it allows the customer to quickly identify it and makes it as a premium product.

Finally, when professionals from other lotteries ask us: what is the secret of “El Gordo’s” success? The success of the Christmas Lottery lies on the fact that it is part of the Spanish society and culture.

The lottery is also important on a business scale since it generates a significant portion of your revenue. Of what amounts are we talking about in the case of recent years?

The Christmas Draw is important because of its social relevance, as I was saying, but also economically. Last year we reached top sales record with €3.1 billion in the Christmas Lottery. We must notice that they are the sales of a single Draw, imagine its importance. It represents 33% of SELAE’s total annual sales. However, these figures must be contextualized: they reflect that the Christmas Draw is widely accepted throughout the Spanish territory and has high levels of popularity among the over 18- year-old population.

As a lottery organizer, you put great emphasis on marketing campaigns for your products. In your opinion, what is the best way to reach people today?

The Christmas Lottery marketing campaigns (or “El Gordo” as it is popularly known throughout the world) are highly anticipated every year. They generate social expectation, and all the media ask about the campaign weeks before we launch the Christmas Lottery commercial.

We have worked since the beginning of the year to develop the best possible campaign. Always, keeping in mind that we must maintain the highest standard of responsible gaming, promoting a safe game based on common sense.

Having said that, one of the best ways to reach people is by speaking their language, approaching their day to day, reflecting how they feel… The lottery cannot be an outsider to the world that surrounds us. If the lottery is part of society, we must reflect the values of society.

Let me give you an example, in the 2019 campaign we made four short stories, in one of them we talked about what happens to the relationship of grandparents with their son-in-law or daughter-in-law (and grandchildren) when a marriage breaks up. And we wanted to reflect that bond through how and with whom we share a Christmas Lottery ticket. It is a clear example that the lotteries should speak the language of society.

Social responsibility is also important in this case, as you often mention in interviews. Is it easier for you to create such a media message because, as a public company, you are not profit-driven?

Social responsibility is one of the pillars of SELAE’s strategy. It is our main goal. As you said, SELAE is a non-profit company and its benefits go to society, through the general state budgets, which reverts to social policies. But, in addition, we have a sponsorship policy in various areas. It is not easy to spread messages in a world with so many informative impacts, but lotteries must focus on communicating everything that legitimizes us and makes us different and unique.

Taking this into account, in the last years our communication strategy has focused on spreading the social initiatives that we support, based on people and not on data. Because the important thing is people and, therefore, we focus on telling how, thanks to the SELAE’s contribution, the lives of people in need or vulnerable people have improved. It is the most gratifying thing, that thanks to SELAE’s social commitment we can do our part to improve vulnerable people’s lives.

On the other hand, another fundamental principle of SELAE’s CSR is Responsible Gaming. SELAE, as a public company, does not seek to sell its products above all but rather prioritizes the protection of vulnerable groups (for example, minors) and fights against addictions. For instance, in the official website we have developed an identity verification system that proves that the people who are participating are who they say they are.

We also have limits to the maximum amounts of money that participants can play weekly and monthly. Likewise, our portfolio does not include immediate response games, which are more likely to generate addiction. Finally, we have awareness communication campaigns aimed to intensive players and vulnerable groups.

Which sectors of the national economy (sports, culture, health care, etc.) do you support the most?

As I mentioned before, in SELAE we have a sponsorship policy in three areas: the social one, which is the most important, because through our support to three of the main Spanish NGOs (Red Cross, Caritas and Spanish Association Against Cancer), we are helping more than five million people during four years. We are developing programs for the elderly, women victims of domestic violence, families, or cancer research.

We also support culture, because we believe that it is important to know where we come from and, also very important, because when people access to culture they can have their own criteria, think for themselves and face life with critical thinking. It is essential for the progress of societies. For this reason, we promote universal access to culture or inclusive initiatives. This is why we support various classical plays, access to the opera or the historical archive of prestigious film festivals such as San Sebastián.

And finally, we also support different sports initiatives focused on promoting the role of women in sports, and grassroots or minority sports.

Which products in your portfolio have the greatest potential to reach players from younger generations?

Our products are aimed at the over 18-year-old population. They all have a good percentage in the different age groups. For example, the one with the highest percentage of participants in the intermediate age range are the National Lottery Thursday draws, the price (three euros) is affordable, and the prizes are practical. And, of course, the Christmas Draw, which is accepted by all age ranges over 18.

This happens because the lottery transfers from parents to over 18-year-old sons. In Spain it is curious and common that families play the same lottery number generation after generation. And also, because of the tradition, prestige and guarantee that the SELAE’s lottery holds.

Immediately, I would like to ask whether the products offered by online casinos or bookmakers are not a threat in terms of attractiveness to lotteries?

They are two completely diverse types of business that coexist in the same market. Everyone has their space.

Having said that, SELAE’s Lottery in Spain is unique, not only because it has 260 years of history and traditions, and products such as the Christmas Lottery, which is intertwined with society, as I mentioned before, but SELAE is a company that belongs to Spanish society, because its benefits are for society. This legitimizes us as a public company and makes us unique.

As early as 2021, smaller prizes in your lotteries could be collected through Bizum. What other ways are you adapting to technological changes?

We are always working to offer the best services and innovation to our customers and points of sale. In 2021, as you said, SELAE was the first Spanish company to introduce the payment of prizes and lottery tickets through Bizum at points of sale.

On the other hand, not many people know that SELAE is a developer of its own gaming software. And, also, that in the EuroMillions community we are a software developer for the selection and distribution of winners.

What does being a member of The European Lotteries and the World Lottery Association (WLA) gives to you?

Both organizations are the example that lotteries can be stronger if we cooperate and share common knowledge and experiences. As a member of the ExCom of both organizations, it is an honour to be able to work with lotteries from around the world and share the experiences that SELAE has treasured in its long history.

In the case of The European Lotteries, it is a community where we deal with various issues that affect us all, from legislation to sustainable development. We work on those common elements that allow us to progress. Along these lines, we are working on promoting CSR and sustainability, for instance.

As well as the Supervisory Chair of the EL Operational Risk and Assurance Working Group, we have recently published twelve risk cards and a self-assessment tool that allow lottery members to know how a specific operational risk can be managed. In the last years, with the pandemic or the war in Ukraine, it is even more important than ever to be prepared to face risks. Regarding WLA, the association gives us a broader perspective and allows us to share knowledge and experiences as well.

In addition, SELAE’s team is involved in different working groups and initiatives of both organizations. In EL we have led a project of commercials library, as Chair of the “Knowledge sharing” subgroup of the Marketing and Communications Working Group. We also participate actively in the Legal & Regulatory and Innovation & Technology groups. In the WLA we are also involved, for example, in the CSR committee, where we can generate many synergies.

Likewise, SELAE is one of the founding members of the EuroMillions community, and we work at all levels (executive, legal, technological…) to offer the best service and product to all members of the community, points of sale and consumers.

Undoubtedly, international affairs allow us all to progress, share knowledge and expertise. All lotteries share common elements, it is logical that we strengthen the ties and goals that unite us with the aim of strengthening our business model.

What are your plans and goals for 2023?

The main objective for SELAE is that, as a state-owned company, we keep working for the benefit of Spanish society, because it is what legitimizes us. All this strengthen by our commitment to promoting CSR initiatives, and always under the umbrella of responsible gaming.

Regarding the business strategy, we work to consolidate sales, especially the Christmas Lottery results. In addition, we are working on new products and, also, on software development, because we believe in the balance between tradition and innovation to progress in our business. Internally, we work to advance in the process strategy and to be more sustainable.

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