New OPAP chief soon

Greece is set to appoint a new chief executive at the country’s gaming monopoly OPAP, with analysts optimistic it will unveil a long-awaited business plan for further growth. Shares in Europe’s biggest betting firm outperformed other blue chips yesterday, surging 4.33 percent. OPAP’s current CEO Vassilis Neiadas said yesterday the country’s finance minister informed him late on Thursday he would be replaced. Neiadas said the new CEO will be Christos Hadjiemmanuil, currently head of Olympic Properties. He will also replace current board Chairman Sotiris Kostakos by early next week. Hadjiemmanuil, an attorney specializing in international financial law, also worked as a consultant at the International Monetary Fund. Neiadas said the minister’s decision was political and that OPAP’s board would convene next week to approve the new appointment. The Finance Ministry was not immediately available for comment. Analysts said the decision ends a month of speculation over possible management changes at OPAP with investor focus now shifting to the group’s five-year business plan. Strong growth »The current management has been successful during its three-year term as OPAP has achieved very strong growth both in terms of sales and profitability,» said analyst Constantinos Zouzoulas at Marfin Analysis. «The market is now awaiting the firm’s business plan which could signal a new era of growth through further expansion in Greece and abroad,» he added. OPAP had finalized the plan, which may include new betting activities – horse racing, greyhound racing, video lotto and poker – along with possible buyouts of foreign lotteries and casinos. But its announcement was delayed by the September 16 elections, as the plan needs government approval. OPAP holds the exclusive right to organize sports bets and lotteries until 2020 in the lucrative Greek betting sector but its monopoly could end as early as in 2012, as the European Union has been trying to open the multibillion-euro European market. In August, the EU Commission gave Greece an October 29 deadline to respond to its legal steps over alleged barriers to foreign gaming firms. Sports betting and gambling is a state-owned monopoly in many EU countries, generating large amounts of revenue for governments but thwarting attempts by private sector rivals to get a piece of the lucrative business.