March 19, 2010

OPAP sees licence wins as Greece taps gaming cash

Greek gaming firm OPAP believes it can win a licence to operate low price slot machines and gain an extension to its current betting monopoly as the government seeks ways out of its debt crisis.

"OPAP considers itself strong and competent enough to secure a licence (for slot machines)," a spokesperson for Europe's biggest listed gaming firm by market value said on Thursday.

As part of a fresh bout of belt-tightening announced last week, the Greek government signalled it was considering extending the firm's current monopoly to help raise additional revenues.

The government, OPAP's biggest shareholder, said it expected to receive an extra 400 million euros ($542.8 million) in 2010 by extending OPAP's concession and granting licences for new games.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said last month he would soon unveil a draft bill to deregulate slot machines, which can currently only be used in casinos, so that Greece can escape further EU fines.

The government, grappling with a 300 billion euro debt pile, is currently paying 31,500 euros a day to the European Union after it ruled the restrictions on gaming machines were against the free movement of services within the EU.

OPAP, 34 percent-owned by the state, holds the exclusive rights to operate sports betting and lotteries until 2020.

"Since the firm's activities could include other things as well, it would be normal for the firm to ask for an extension of its deal with the state," the spokesperson added.

It had cash of about 676 million euros at the end of September and analysts say the firm should find ways to invest in new areas to boost profits. Analysts said the new games could also include licences for scratchcards.

OPAP said it expected the government to grant more than one licence for slot machines later this year.

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