* Greece now to sell almost all of OPAP stake - 33 pct
* Interested parties must declare interest by Oct. 19
* Government trying to do better with privatisation target
By Karolina Tagaris and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, Sept 27 Greece will sell almost all of
its stake in gambling monopoly OPAP, the government
said on Thursday, increasing the amount that is for sale in an
attempt to convince foreign lenders that it is serious about
selling off state assets.
Athens, which owns 34 percent of one of Europe's biggest
gaming companies, has launched a tender to sell a 33 percent
stake in the company, the privatisation agency HRADF said.
Previously Greece had planned to sell 29 percent of OPAP,
currently worth about 450 million euros on the Athens bourse.
OPAP is central to Greece's plan to raise 19 billion euros
from privatisations by 2015 - a key condition of its 130-billion
euro bailout agreed earlier this year. It is the country's most
profitable state firm with a sports betting monopoly stretching,
for some games, as far as 2030.
Greece is badly behind on privatisation targets and the
three-month-old, conservative-led government has pledged to do
better as it struggles to convince the EU and the IMF to resume
the bailout payments that keep the country afloat.
"The fact that OPAP is being completely sold off shows the
government's will to privatise," said Dimitris Mardas, an
economics professor at Thessaloniki's Aristotle University.
HRADF set an Oct. 19 deadline for expressions of interest
and said the tender would be carried out in two phases. After an
initial declaration of interest, bidders will be called to
submit binding offers, HRADF said. The agency has the right to
introduce an intermediary phase of non-binding bids in order to
evaluate bidders' business plans.
"The complete privatisation of OPAP will be carried out
transparently, rapidly and with efficiency," HRADF's chief
executive Yiannis Emiris said in the statement.
A senior government official told Reuters earlier this month
that Athens aimed to find a buyer for OPAP by January and that
four consortia of Greek and foreign companies were interested in
Turkish conglomerate Dogan Holding said on Monday
it would consider taking part in a sale tender for OPAP.
Investment funds Fidelity and Silchester Inv. already hold 5
percent each in the company.
Greece has picked Deutsche Bank and National Bank of Greece
as financial advisers, it added.
Athens has already moved to clear issues that might block
the company's sale. Earlier this month, it settled a row with
European Union competition authorities over how the company
should be taxed and set a new 30 percent levy on gross earnings
from next year.
But investors' appetites might be dampened by an ongoing
court challenge against the Greek company's monopoly brought by
Britain's biggest bookmaker William Hill and online
gaming companies SportingBet and StanleyBet after they
were denied gambling licenses in the country.
A senior EU legal adviser raised questions about OPAP's
right to control all betting in the country last week
. Greece's highest administrative court is
expected to issue a final ruling on the case in the coming