Greece's OPAP plans online debut by soccer World Cup

ATHENS Thu May 22, 2014 1:58pm EDT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's OPAP, one of Europe's biggest betting firms, plans to launch long-awaited online sports betting before the start of the soccer World Cup in June, its CEO said on Thursday, in a bid to capitalize on the popular event.

Greece sold a majority stake in OPAP to Czech-Greek investment fund Emma Delta for 652 million euros ($890 million)last year, marking its first major privatization under its multi-billion international bailout.

The new management that took over in October promised to implement the company's plans to expand into online betting, video lotto and scratch cards. OPAP launched a scratch card on May 1 and plans to operate the first video lottery machine by the end of the year.

OPAP's Chief Executive Kamil Ziegler told shareholders on Thursday the firm would likely launch its flagship sports betting game "Pame Stihima", currently offered at its 5,000 outlets, online before the start of the June 12-July 13 soccer World Cup in Brazil.

"It will be done, I hope, before the soccer championship in June," he said.

OPAP has paid about 700 million euros in total over recent years for a gambling monopoly and called the government on Thursday to safeguard its exclusive rights on online sports betting which ends in 2020.

Online betting remains unregulated in Greece and illegal operators were thriving until last year when Athens banned 400 online bookmakers, but gave temporary licenses to about 20 of them.

"It's a fact that OPAP has the exclusive rights for which it has paid a fair price," said Spyros Fokas, vice-president on the company's board.

OPAP had gross gaming revenues of 1.2 billion euros last year. New videolotto, online gambling and scratch card games are seen adding new revenue, expected to reach about 1 billion euros a year in 2018.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Mark Potter)

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