OPAP to look overseas

Europe’s largest betting firm, OPAP, will seek expansion abroad to support profit growth ahead of a possible deregulation that would end its monopoly in Greece, its chief executive said yesterday. As betting markets around the world are liberalized, OPAP is keeping an eye out for expansion opportunities, either through acquisitions or by directly purchasing gaming rights. «Should a promising opportunity arise, OPAP will consider it and take it,» CEO Christos Hadjiemmanuil told Reuters in an interview, without giving further details. OPAP is taking steps to prepare for a possible market liberalization by overhauling internal procedures and renegotiating contracts with its 5,500 sales agents, the CEO said. «We are updating the archaic legal framework that governs our relationship with the agents,» he said. «This is a very important stepping stone in terms of modernizing the company.» OPAP, with a market capitalization of -7.5 billion, has exclusive rights over sports betting and lotteries in Greece until 2020. Greece has received a final warning from the EU Commission to lift restrictions in its gaming market and open it up to foreign competition. The country argues that OPAP’s dominant position is constitutionally protected and that curbs on competition are needed to cut gambling addiction. The company will defend its monopoly alongside the Greek government, which holds 34 percent in OPAP. «Make no mistake, we are competitive,» Hadjiemmanuil said. «Should (deregulation) prevail, we have the liquidity… We are underleveraged and have ample resources.» «I am optimistic that we will have a healthy rise in profitability in 2008,» he said.

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