An award-winning team of journalists, designers, and videographers who tell brand stories through Fast Company's distinctive lens. Leaders who are shaping the future of business in creative ways. New workplaces, new food sources, new medicine--even an entirely new economic system. He would tell you this with a straight face, or perhaps an indignant one. But, you know, if you happened to hear that Bodog, the Internet-based gambling juggernaut that he birthed and then nurtured in his image, has been operating in violation of U.
So which is it? Good question. I hoped to find the answer by meeting Ayre in Macau, where, his publicist said, he would be exploring expansion opportunities for his company. It was late February, a mild month on the South China Sea. If you like Las Vegas but wish it were smokier and more Chinese, then Macau is your place. I learned that from Michael Jackson. A black Mercedes pulled up and out slinked aspiring actress Zara Taylor, a tall brunette in a tight black dress, designer sunglasses, and 3-inch heels.
She kissed Ayre on the cheek in a way that was personal but not intimate. Taylor had been relegated to a second car. Have you ever arrived at a destination and found it to be lacking in cars? Ostensibly, Ayre had come to Macau for the sixth annual Asian i-Gaming Congress and Expo, which was being held at the new Venetian hotel, the second-largest building on earth.
Between slurps of shark-fin soup at the Grand Waldo Hotel, a Chinese casino near the Cotai Strip, Ayre chuckled at my aversion to a dumpling that resembled a tiny deep-fried hedgehog. From here, conversation ponged around like his life: to Bodog headquarters in Antigua, where Ayre has a house; to Costa Rica, where Bodog formerly had its headquarters; to Russia, where he staged some fund-raisers to combat bear-bile farming, a pet cause of his charity, and then threw a massive mixed-martial-arts event that drew both Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi as well as Jean-Claude Van Damme ; to England, where he recently launched Bodog U.
He was going to take Bodog global by partying from pole to pole, hurdling legal obstacles without spilling his martini. It is one of the few major i-gaming companies based in the Americas to have survived, let alone thrived, following a series of legal roadblocks erected by the U. The Cigar had done an end run around the law by setting up shop in the Dominican Republic, where he was taking bets by phone. Ayre recognized that the nascent offshore betting scene was gravitating to the Web, and he saw an opportunity.
What does it mean? Nothing, actually. He says he knew from the start that Bodog would expand beyond gambling, and that to name his company something simple and clear like his competitors — Sportsbook. Ayre saw his business as an e-commerce venture that sold gambling, rather than a gambling operation that just happened to be online.
Ayre also emphasized customer service and swift processing of payments, neither of which was exactly a strength of the bookies-in-exile who made up much of his early competition. But what Ayre did best was marketing. Collaborating with his friend Christopher Costigan of Gambling Ayre dressed hotel employees as gun-toting rebels and posted the photos. You actually believe this stuff? Ayre posted photos, videos, and blog entries from his bachelor pad in Costa Rica, where he threw wild parties overstuffed with bikini-clad women who jiggled around in the pool.
Business boomed. Ayre began diversifying. He added a sports and entertainment Webzine; a music label that distributes artists such as the rapper DMX and the platinum-selling punk act Bif Naked; a million-dollar Battle of the Bands competition that drew more than 7, bands in its first season; and an international mixed-martial-arts series called Bodog Fight that is staged in arenas, broadcast on cable in the United States, Canada, and Russia, and sold on DVD.
The entertainment properties may never turn a profit, but even as loss leaders, they amplify the brand. As of March of this year, a company rep told me, Bodog employed several hundred people, including 15 bookmakers, at its Antigua headquarters where it relocated in , plus a few dozen in the U. The Ayre I met in Macau was feeling bullish. A real-world casino is by its very nature perspective-altering; it is engineered to make its patrons forget space and time.
By even the grandest of Las Vegas standards, the Venetian Macao is a monster. Forget the gaming floor and hotel; we struggled to navigate the convention center, a labyrinth of oriental-carpet-lined halls that could easily accommodate freight trains. Once we finally located the expo, with a hundred or so attendees clumped about talking shop, Ayre almost immediately looked bored. Uncle Sam maintains that foreign businesses must pay taxes on business conducted here. If a poker game has a player in Australia, a player in Spain, and a player in Cleveland, and the game is running on a server humming away in a climate-controlled closet in Malta, for example, who has legal jurisdiction?
The U. But as the industry grew and became more visible — and as a number of companies went public in England starting in the late s — the Department of Justice grew agitated. Next up were publishers who carried online-gaming ads. But it turned out to be something of a boon for Ayre, who had decided to keep Bodog private, and thus less transparent.
In other words, major sites vanished, but the overall volume of play was barely affected. His lawyers advised against it, particularly after the arrests of David Carruthers and Peter Dicks, British executives for the public firms BetonSports and Sportingbet, respectively, both picked up at U. Ayre the optimist, of course, insists otherwise.
But the United States is, after all, more than half of the global online-gambling market. We licensed the brand rights to an indigenous group [Morris Mohawk]. To us that was, like, a masterstroke. We can walk away operationally but still have an income stream from the brand penetrations that we put in place. We lasted maybe a half hour at the Macau convention, not moving more than a few feet from where our entourage first stalled, alongside a booth advertising a mah-jongg site. You have to let go of stuff, right?
It was 7 p. Anticipating a long night, he also thought it too early for vodka, so he insisted we should chase our caviar with chardonnay. The marble-floored, gold-walled room was ours alone, but to note that is deceiving. Operators of online betting sites and payment processors have previously faced federal charges in Maryland, and Ayre derisively called the charges against him "another notch in the belt" for federal prosecutors here.
Last May, in a crackdown dubbed "Blue Monday" by players, federal authorities based in Maryland shut down 10 poker sites, including Beted. That followed the so-called "Black Friday" indictments brought by the U. The owners of those sites are fighting the charges. The day after the May indictments were unsealed, Bodog. Then, in the fall, Bodog. Ayre has said that he retired and transferred the brand to the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group, which is located near Montreal, Forbes. Chris Costigan, publisher of Gambling Costigan said many sites since the Black Friday and Blue Monday cases have switched their sites to European domain names to elude seizure by U.
For that reason, he said, the indictment against Bodog is unlikely to have a major impact. He noted that cash wasn't seized. That's not the situation here, nor is it the situation that their current domains are no longer operational," he said. But John Warren Kindt, a business professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said such crackdowns could scare bettors. Such sites have been "operating on the fringe for years, trying to find gray areas and legal loopholes," Kindt said.
Gambling sites have gotten away with conducting business in foreign countries and using foreign banks to process transactions for American bettors. But as the industry exploded, many companies have turned to domestic payment processors or set up fictitious companies. Federal investigators started an account with Bodog six years ago and began placing online bets.
In , Maryland IRS investigators seized funds from the bank accounts of three payment processing companies suspected of handling money for Bodog — Georgia companies JBL Services and Transactions Solutions, and the California-based company Zippayments. Two men connected to those companies, Edward Courdy of Zippayments. Garone's case remained under seal for more than two years because prosecutors said information provided by Garone was being used in investigations in New York and California, and because he was expected to testify at an undisclosed trial in New York.
Garone received a year of probation, records show. The indictment handed up by the grand jury against Ayre was filed by R. The brief document says an undercover officer set up an account with a company called Ewalletxpress, which Bodog offered as one of its primary deposit methods. The officer placed bets on Bodog. Ewalletxpress shut down in November, first citing technical issues, according to Poker News Daily.
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