Friday July 29,2011 : Finance minister Venizelos says there may be other ways to raise funds via OPAP for financially troubled nation
The Greek minister of finance, Evangelos Venizelos, caused a stir Thursday by suggesting that the cash-strapped government may not sell its full stake in gaming monopoly OPAP, the key asset on the nation's 2011 privatisation list. He said that the country intends to meet its EU and IMF commitments, but that there may be alternatives to selling off the state's 34 percent interest in the gambling group.
The financially beleaguered country has agreed with its international lenders to sell its OPAP stake in the fourth quarter of this year, as part of a drive to raise Euros 50 billion from privatisations by 2015, reports the Reuters news agency.
But contrary to what is stipulated in the EU and IMF reports, Venizelos said Greece might not sell the stake because there could be alternative ways to raise money from the company.
"We have not pledged to sell OPAP; we have pledged that we will have revenues from OPAP (to reduce) the public debt," Venizelos told the Greek parliament. "The cabinet will appraise what is the best way to raise the revenues targeted."
Venizelos said a draft gaming law – now rolled into a finance bill (see previous InfoPowa report) – will considerably strengthen OPAP and the premium that goes with appointing the management of the company, which the government currently does through its controlling stake.
"This premium is very large," Venizelos told lawmakers. "OPAP's value is not only its shares but also the value of exercising its management," he added.
He revealed that the government additionally expects to raise about Euro 400 million from extending OPAP's licence, which currently expires in 2020.
Unlike most of the assets earmarked for sale in Greece's privatisation plan, OPAP is debt-free and profitable. The state's 34 percent stake has a market value of about Euro 1.17 billion.
Venizelos said that country stood by its EU/IMF privatisation targets.
"We have a clear target to present Euro 1.7 billion from privatisations by the end of September and Euro 5 billion by the end of the year. If we don't come up with this we won't be credible and put the financial support package at risk," he said.
As part of measures to boost OPAP's value, Venizelos said that it will receive an exclusive licence to operate all the 35,000 video lotto machines (VLTs) to be set up in the country as part of gaming liberalisation.
OPAP will operate 16,500 of these machines itself and sub-contract the rest to between four and 10 other operators.