French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said half a million people had signed up to buy shares in the state-owned lottery monopoly Francaise des Jeux (FDJ)

Paris (AFP) - The privatisation of France’s state-owned lottery is set to raise more than two billion euros, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday.

Strong demand allowed the government to set a share price of 19.90 euros ($22.02), at the high end of expectations, Le Maire told a press conference.

The government would earn “2.1 billion euros” from the operation, he said.

The windfall has been earmarked to kickstart technological innovation in France, while the initial public offering (IPO) is part of President Emmanuel Macron’s broader reforms to re-vitalise the French economy and make it more welcoming for foreign investors.

Total demand for 52 percent of the shares in the Francaise des Jeux (FDJ) monopoly amounted to more than 11 billion euros, including 1.6 billion from small investors and 10 billion from institutions such as investment funds, companies, banks and insurance groups, the economy minister said.

FDJ shares are to be floated Thursday on the Paris stock exchange.

It is the second-biggest betting company in Europe and the fourth in the world.

Small-time investors who have been offered a two-percent discount are also to be given priority given that the shares were over-subscribed.

Le Maire told media that “we decided to raise from 33 to 40 percent the amount of shares reserved for individual investors” and noted that “half a million people” had signed up for the IPO.

The government hopes the sale will rekindle demand for stocks among French savers, many of whom have stuck with ultra-safe low-interest savings accounts since the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Once the sale is finalised, the French state is to own 20 percent of the shares in FDJ, and individual shareholders 21 percent.

French veterans are to see their stake in the lottery beefed up, and FDJ staff is to own between five and seven percent.

FDJ came into being as the successor of a national lottery founded in 1933 to help soldiers disfigured in World War I and struggling farmers.

It is a comparatively rare case of a French public enterprise in robust financial health, and is well known by the public, which made 16 billion euros’ worth of flutters on assorted games of chance last year.