Universal call for the privatization of ODIE

By Vangelis Mandravelis

For the first time in the history of the Greek public sector, a group of civil servants came out on Thursday in favor of the privatization of the corporation they work at, as the employees of the Hellenic Horse Racing Organization (ODIE) demanded that the government and the state sell-off fund (TAIPED) move ahead with the corporation’s privatization.

“Enough already! Privatize us!” was the rallying cry at the press conference that ODIE workers along with several other racing-related associations held on Thursday in Athens. On the side of the workers’ union stood the horse owners, trainers, jockeys and ODIE agents.

According to their statements, the racing organization’s privatization is the only state entity sell-off that has won the support of the government and most opposition parties, as well as TAIPED, the company’s management and its employees. Among those interested in the sale is Paris Mutuel Urbain (PMU), the world’s leading corporation in the sector. However, the process has been allowed to slip into a state of stagnation for more than 12 months, since the law for the concession of the operating permit was voted upon.

Behind this unprecedented support is the understanding that the race course will be shut down unless it is privatized. As the horse racing associations stated, the risk of a shutdown is clear, as on January 25, the transitional period of ODIE’s operation provided by law will expire. Since the privatization has not yet happened, the government will need to prolong ODIE’s existence. This appears to have been agreed verbally, but as January 25 approaches, worries are heightening.

Besides PMU, a consortium comprising Greek company Intralot and the horse racing company of Argentina is also eyeing ODIE. According to sources, the interested parties have already set two conditions for their participation in this privatization project: The first concerns a tax status change for amateur owners of race horses and the second is a demand for the privatization to take place without the racing course halting its operations.

On the issue of tax status, the interested investors as well as market professionals are calling for an amendment to a 2010 law that considers the owners of just three or four horses as professionals. This law has forced out a number of amateur race horse owners, as their number decreased from 200 before the application of the law to just 60 one year later.

ODIE’s finances have followed a similar course, as turnover shrank by 60 percent from 2009 to 2012, dropping from 260 million euros to just 84 million. This year it will not exceed 75 million.