November 3, 2015 / 3:42 PM / 4 years ago

Greece's OPAP ready for legal action over video lotto rules -shareholder

PRAGUE, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Greece’s biggest betting company OPAP is prepared to take legal action against the Greek state this month unless there are changes to rules that have delayed the launch of its video lottery business, the company’s biggest shareholder said.

Czech businessman Jiri Smejc told Reuters he believed that the Greek government’s need to boost revenues would soon lead to changes to the rules that he said currently made the video lottery business unprofitable.

“We believe it is just a matter of time,” Smejc said in an interview in Prague on Monday. “They badly need the revenue.”

“We have discussed with the government that in these upcoming weeks, if it will not be solved, we will need to file some lawsuit,” he said.

The Greek finance ministry was not immediately available to comment.

Smejc’s investment group Emma Capital teamed up with Czech and Greek partners to buy a 33 percent controlling stake in OPAP for 622 million euros ($683.83 million) in 2013, marking Greece’s first major privatisation under its international bailout terms. Emma Delta fund, owned by Smejc, another Czech investor KKCG and Greek businessman George Melissanidis, own 33 percent in OPAP.

OPAP, Europe’s second-biggest gambling firm by market value, has been hit by Greece’s recession, but the launch of a scratch card and more lotteries are paying off. In the second quarter, the company reported a 36 percent rise in core profit.

OPAP had planned to start rolling out its new video lottery terminals early this year, but in June this was put on hold when Greece imposed tougher rules, including lower jackpot levels, daily loss limits and curbs on the length of play time allowed.

Smejc said OPAP paid 560 million euros to operate the terminals and had already built the first 50 gaming halls. If the company did take legal action it would seek to claim that back plus lost revenue, he said.

“We have clear promises they will change (the regulation) but still nothing has happened,” he said. “That is why we froze the project, because for us it does not make sense economically now to do it.”

Without the video lottery business, Smejc estimated the Greek government could lose out on up to 300 million euros in tax income in 2016.

In a June proposal that Greece made to international creditors, the government estimated it could reap some 35 million euros in 2015 and some 225 million in 2016 in revenues from video lottery terminals.

Video lottery terminals allow players to bet on the outcome of a video game.

$1 = 0.9096 euros Reporting by Jason Hovet, Jan Lopatka in Prague and Angeliki Kontantou in Athens. Editing by Jane Merriman

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