Greece forges ahead with OPAP sale

Greece’s privatisation agency HRADF has launched the international tender process for the sale of its 33% stake in gambling monopoly OPAP.

The Greek government is understood to be looking for a quick sale of its shareholding in one of Europe’s largest gambling businesses. Expressions of interested are to be submitted by 17:00 UK time on 19 October, with qualified interested parties invited to submit binding offers thereafter.

Athens-listed OPAP, which  has exclusive rights to operate 35,000 video lottery terminals and 13 games of chance across Greece, announced in July that it had awarded the potentially lucrative contract to provide it with online products including sports betting, casino and poker to Lottomatica’s egaming division GTECH G2.

OPAP had reportedly been weighing up a bid for London-listed Sportingbet prior to shortlisting three service providers – the others being Playtech and Intralot – earlier this year. Sportingbet, now the subject of a proposed joint bid from William Hill and GVC Holdings, is the largest online sports betting operator in Greece.

HRADF’s CEO Yiannis Emiris said today that the privitisation of OPAP would be carried out “rapidly, transparently and with efficiency” as part of his agency’s acceleration of a wide-ranging plan “to restart the Greek economy”.

The formal commencement of the sale process however follows just seven days after a key legal advisor to Europe’s highest court cast doubts on the sustainability of OPAP’s monopoly, and its shares fell 18% in a single afternoon after Greece announced OPAP would be paying 30% tax on gross revenue and 10% on winnings on all its operations from 2013.

Both developments stemmed from legal actions brought by all of Europe’s leading online gaming operators and land-based operator Stanleybet against the Greek State over protectionist policies aimed at safeguarding OPAP’s monopoly position.

OPAP said that the agreement with the European Commission to harmonise tax levels across its operations “removes any state-aid recovery risk for OPAP going forward.” Analysts however projected this could wipe as much as €280m of its total profits next year, equivalent to more than half of the €537.5m it generated last year.

The Greek government’s stake in OPAP had been valued as high as €1.1bn prior to last week’s developments.

One of Europe’s largest gambling markets, Greece passed a law to regulate online gaming last August, enabling the Minister of Finance to invite tenders for an unlimited number of five-year online gaming licences. The Greek government has yet to give the green light to this process.

Article written by Stephen Carter

Casino Choice journalist

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