Gaming group OPAP reported a lower-than-expected first-quarter net profit yesterday after it raised the payout from its flagship sports betting game Stoichima to attract more players. Net profit rose 1.4 percent to 122.6 million euros ($157.3 million) versus an average forecast of 128 million euros in a Reuters poll of 10 analysts. OPAP’s sales grew 18.5 percent to 1.044 billion euros thanks to a strong recovery in its fixed-odds betting game, Stoichima, after the company raised the payout to winners and launched spread and live bets last year to rejuvenate the game. It also included non-athletic events, such as this year’s Academy Awards and the recent Eurovision song contest, in Stoichima bets, with both generating total revenues of 3.85 million euros. «In addition to attracting a significant number of players from the illegal betting market, we have also managed to increase the game’s contribution to our gross profit,» OPAP’s Chief Executive Basile Neiadas said in a statement. The higher payout to Stoichima winners eroded EBITDA margin but analysts were upbeat on OPAP’s earnings growth in the coming months. «There was some pressure on earnings due to lower Kino revenues and higher distribution costs. This is expected to smooth out by the end of the year,» said Alpha Finance analyst Dimitris Giannoulis. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 1.7 percent to 179.2 million euros, with the EBITDA margin down to 17.2 percent from 20.7 percent in the same period last year. Stoichima revenues rose 60.3 percent to 481.6 million euros, above market forecasts, while sales from OPAP’s biggest lottery game, Kino, dropped 2 percent to 436.9 million euros. OPAP, with a current market value of 8.6 billion euros, has exclusive rights to organize sport betting games and lotteries in Greece until 2020. Greek soccer bets OPAP trades at 16.3 times 2006 earnings, a discount to the 23.76 times multiple for the European casinos and gaming sector, according to Reuters Estimates. Analysts say the firm trades at a lower valuation because of the delay in adding bets on Greek soccer matches to Stoichima, which is expected to make the game more attractive to gamblers. The company, now waiting for approval from a government sports committee for the move, said it could offer Greek soccer matches in Stoichima bets in the next soccer season starting in late August.