* Suitor for OPAP stake has until May 1 to improve bid
* Greek-Czech fund offered 622 mln euros for 33 pct stake
* Athens wants at least 650 mln
* Fund had asked for more time to decide on bid-source
By Angeliki Koutantou and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, April 25 Greece gave the sole bidder for
gambling monopoly OPAP a week extra to raise its terms
in a last-ditch attempt to save its first big privatisation from
an embarrassing failure that could derail its bailout.
Debt-laden Athens needs to conclude the sale to an
investment fund called Emma Delta to kickstart its long-delayed
privatisation programme, imposed by its European Union (EU) and
International Monetary Fund (IMF) creditors.
If Greece fails to sell OPAP, it will not meet its asset
sale target of 2.6 billion euros ($3.4 billion) this year - a
shortfall that would have to meet with additional austerity
measures or by its international creditors having to stump up
more money to bankroll the country.
The OPAP sale drew no interest from big international gaming
companies, with analysts citing Greece's economic problems as
well as OPAP's uncertain growth prospects as the reason.
Emma Delta, controlled by Czech investor Jiri Smejc and
Greek ship owner George Melisanidis, on Monday submitted the
only valid bid for the 33 percent stake and management rights in
OPAP, offering 622 million euros.
Privatisation agency HRADF initially gave the fund 48 hours
to raise its bid to at least 650 million euros, but the agency
has now extended the deadline to May 1, on the fund's request.
HRADF's valuation is based on a minimum as estimated by an
external assessor and is a discount to its stock market value,
though Deutsche Bank and National Bank,
Greece's main sale advisors, have put the stake's value at just
OPAP shares were up 0.4 percent at 6.91 euros in Athens by
1129 GMT, giving a 33 percent stake a market value of about 725
An official close to Emma Delta told Reuters the fund needed
more time to decide whether and how it would raise its offer.
"It wasn't possible to wrap up the ... evaluation and
response within a pressing 48-hour timeframe," the official said
on condition of anonymity. "This is a multinational investor
group with the respective businessmen dispersed in different
parts of the world."
Some analysts saw the delay as a sign that a deal would
likely be reached. "The extension shows that both parties remain
engaged in the process," said analyst Paris Mantzavras at
brokerage Pantelakis Securities.
"Given the small valuation gap, it is very likely that they
will reach a deal next week," said Mantzavras, who is rated top
for the accuracy of his forecasts for OPAP's earnings on Thomson
Other investors in the group are Greek entrepreneur Christos
Copelouzos, Russian investment firm ICT Group, Czech
Republic-based investment fund KKCG and Slovak investment fund
Out of eight investors which had expressed initial interest
for OPAP, only Emma Delta and U.S. hedge fund Third Point
submitted binding bids. Third Point was disqualified because it
insisted on the right to resell OPAP shares at any time.
Emma Delta had said in a statement on Tuesday its bid was
fair and open. It added that OPAP had "internal structural
problems, with profitability hampered by a cumbersome corporate
structure and tight cashflow, which is forecast to continue for
the next two years".
OPAP was Greece's most profitable company last year, with
net income of 505.5 million euros and a return on equity of 49.2
percent, but this is set to change as the company faces a number
Greece slapped a 30 percent tax on gross gaming revenue from
this year, OPAP's monopoly is subject to a legal challenge from
rivals such William Hill, and OPAP's planned
video-lottery and online betting businesses are subject to
In addition, the company controversially decided earlier
this month to renew an IT deal with its long-standing technology
provider Intralot just weeks before its privatisation.
Emma Delta and Gauselmann/Playtech, a
German-Israeli group which withdrew from the race, had loudly
protested at the Intralot contract renewal.