Turnaround on betting

The government yesterday unveiled plans to include Greek soccer matches in the state-controlled football betting system, which is run by the owner of the country’s top club. The announcement, by Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Orfanos, who holds the sports portfolio, and the managing director of OPAP betting company, Vassilis Neiadas, came ahead of the government’s planned sale of a 17 percent OPAP stake to private investors. This is scheduled for July, and yesterday’s announcement is seen as an attempt to make the shares more attractive to buyers. Orfanos and Neiadas said Greek soccer matches would be included in OPAP’s «Pame Stoichima» («Let’s Bet») betting system from the coming season, which starts in September. They said at least one local fixture would be included in the three or four games punters can bet on. Orfanos added that soccer clubs would not initially receive any extra subsidies from OPAP. However, the ruling conservatives appear to have overlooked one complication. In 1999, OPAP signed a seven-year deal with the Intralot gaming systems provider to operate the Pame Stoichima bets. Intralot is controlled by Socrates Kokkalis, who also owns the Olympiakos Piraeus football club – which won the premier league and the Greek Cup this season. In 2001, when still in opposition, conservative New Democracy had fiercely campaigned against plans by the Socialist government of the day to include Greek fixtures in the Pame Stoichima betting, arguing that this would result in an unacceptable conflict of interest involving Intralot and Olympiakos. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had at the time accused PASOK of being in thrall to Kokkalis, whom he described as «the gambling lord,» forcing the Socialists to scrap the project. Yesterday, senior government sources indicated that OPAP would probably take over from Intralot after the company’s contract runs out next year. Last year, OPAP posted a 35.8 percent increase in turnover, while pretax profits rose 93.1 percent to reach 736 million euros.

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