OPAP to be expanded by Greek government

State owned monopoly could generate more revenues for cash-strapped nation

The Greek government, struggling with a Euro 300 billion national debt and a floundering economy, is looking to its gambling monopoly OPAP to help make ends meet, reports the Reuters news agency. Moves are afoot to squeeze an extra Euro 400 million from gaming for the state coffers.

One solution is a loosening of the strict controls on slot machines, at present only permitted in casinos. OPAP said this week that it believes it can win a licence to operate low price slot machines and expand its current betting monopoly to generate more revenues for government.

In announcing a fresh round of budget cuts last week, the government indicated it was considering extending the OPAP's current monopoly and mandate to help raise additional revenues.

The government, at 34 percent, is OPAP's biggest shareholder, and spokesmen said it expected to receive an extra Euro 400 million in 2010 by extending OPAP's concession and granting licences for new games.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said last month he would soon unveil a draft bill to deregulate slot machines, so that Greece can escape further EU fines on which it is paying out Euro 31 500 every day to the EU after it ruled that Greek restrictions on gaming machines were against the free movement of services within the EU.

OPAP had cash of about Euro 676 million at the end of September 2009 and analysts say the firm should find ways to invest in new areas to boost profits. Analysts said the new games could also include licences for scratchcards.

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