UPDATE 2-Greece's betting monopoly sees plunge in profit

Fri Feb 22, 2013 9:41am EST

* OPAP sees 2013 net profit down by more than two thirds

* Estimate lower than analyst forecasts

* Greece seeking to sell 33 percent stake in OPAP

* Shares down 4 pct (Updates with analyst quote, background, shares)

By Angeliki Koutantou

ATHENS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Greece's betting monopoly OPAP said its 2013 profit would fall more than expected due to higher taxes and investment, potentially reducing proceeds the debt-laden country stands to make from privatising the business.

Greece is selling 33 percent of OPAP and seven investors, including a Chinese conglomerate and big private equity funds, have been short-listed to buy the stake in what is viewed as the jewel in the country's privatisation programme.

In a presentation to potential investors published on Friday, OPAP said its net profit was likely to fall to 116 million euros ($153 million) this year, down 77 percent from an estimated 496 million euros for 2012.

The firm, with a market value of around 2.26 billion euros, is due to release its 2012 results on March 7.

OPAP shares were down 4 percent in afternoon trade, lagging a 0.2 percent fall in the Athens bourse's general index.

The company holds monopolies in sports betting and lotteries until 2020 and 2030 respectively and has an exclusive 10-year licence for video lottery terminals (VLTs). Last year, it was also part of a consortium that won a 12-year licence to sell scratch cards, extending its dominant position in the country.

Greece slapped a 30 percent levy on OPAP's gross earnings from Jan. 1 to boost government revenue and meet fiscal targets set in a bailout deal with its international lenders, the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Analysts had expected the tax would hit 2013 profit hard but OPAP's guidance came lower than their forecasts.

"What might make the difference to consensus, which currently stands at 150 million euros, is a higher than expected cost for the roll-out of the video lotteries and a lower than estimated drop in expenses for sponsorships and advertising," said Alpha Finance analyst Angelos Chorafas.

Some analysts, however, played down the impact of the profit forecast on the likely proceeds from the privatisation, saying OPAP's investments in, for example, VLTs and online gaming should pay off in the years to come.

The company, with a network of 4,800 outlets, said it was preparing to open new gaming halls to house its first 16,500 VLTs, a move which is seen producing 448 million euros in gross revenue in 2015, the first year of full operation.

OPAP also plans to start offering online betting in 2014.

In the presentation, the company projected gross gaming revenue at 1.2 billion euros this year from 1.3 billion euros estimated for 2012. For 2014, net profit is seen at 127 million euros on gross revenues of 1.61 billion.

OPAP expects annual gross revenue growth of about 10 percent in the 2013-2022 period thanks to the new games.

It plans to pay a dividend of 0.72 euros a share on 2012 earnings, down from 1.54 euros a share it paid in 2011.

($1=0.7563 euros) (Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Mark Potter)

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