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HomeMiscellanyCanadian online gambling tycoon avoids jail in U.S., slams B.C. government

Canadian online gambling tycoon avoids jail in U.S., slams B.C. government

Bob Mackin

The former Yaletown playboy who launched an online gambling giant in Vancouver reached a plea bargain with United States authorities to avoid jail. 

Court documents from the United States District Court in Maryland show that Judge Catherine Blake agreed July 14 to fine Bodog.com founder Calvin Ayre $500,025 and sentence him to one-year unsupervised probation. Antigua-based Ayre pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour of being an accessory after the fact to transmission of wagering information between June 2005 and December 2011. 

Online gambling pioneer Calvin Ayre in Vancouver  (CalvinAyre.com)

Ayre and three others, who were charged in February 2012, had faced up to 25 years in jail each for conducting an illegal sports gambling business and conspiracy to launder money. Those charges were dropped. 

The plea agreement stated that Bodog “provided marketing assistance to entities that accepted funds from people located in Maryland and elsewhere to open accounts.”

“This activity constituted the business of betting or wagering information on a sporting event. Furthermore, the representatives of the Bodog brand participated in a wire communication in which information assisting the placing of bets was transmitted, which was made across state lines or from the United States to a foreign country.”

Ayre agreed not to make any claim to the $66,113,389.78 seized from various accounts. His probation is unsupervised and the mandatory drug test waived because he is not a U.S. resident or citizen. 

U.S. authorities seized the Bodog.com domain in 2012, but relinquished it for $100,000 under Ayre’s plea deal. The Feb. 21, 2000-registred domain was updated July 17, 2017 via Safenames House based in Milton Keynes, England. Other iterations of the Bodog brand have continued to exist online. 

U.S. authorities originally alleged that Ayre, James Philip, David Ferguson and Derrick Maloney ran an illegal online sports gambling business between June 9, 2005 and Jan. 6, 2012, that moved funds from Bodog accounts in Switzerland, England, Malta, Canada and elsewhere, to pay winnings to gamblers, and to pay media brokers and advertisers located in the U.S.  

“The conspirators directed payment processors to send at least $100 million by wire and by check to gamblers located in Maryland and elsewhere,” said a news release from prosecutors in February 2012. It also said that Bodog paid more than $42 million to advertise to U.S. gamblers from 2005 to 2008. 

A 2006 Forbes magazine feature, under the headline “Catch Me If You Can,” said Bodog handled $7.3 billion in online bets in 2005, triple its 2004 volume. 

Forbes reported: “Ayre says all this betting gave him sales of $210 million and that he took 26% of the revenue to the bottom line. Whats his business worth? Two similar ventures that are publicly traded (in Europe) go for well over 18 times trailing earnings. At that multiple Bodog, along with other assets, gives Ayre a net worth of at least $1 billion.”

Bodog sponsored the 2011 Grey Cup at public-owned B.C. Place Stadium and advertised its free-to-play promotional website on the stadium’s exterior video boards in 2013, even though B.C. Lottery Corporation has the statutory monopoly for online gambling in the province. Bodog sponsored the Canadian Gaming Summit at the Vancouver Convention Centre in late June. During a rare appearance at an industry event, Ayre slammed the B.C. government-run gambling system.  

“B.C. Lottery Corporation is actually an operator, not a regulator; they’re an unregulated operator from my view of the world. Regulation is something that should be put in place here in B.C.,” Ayre said in an interview on CalvinAyre.com.

“They have to put proper third-party regulators in place, who would then regulate their company as well and then open it up to the private sector.”

The Canadian Criminal Code says it is illegal for anyone — other than Crown corporations like BCLC — to take bets online from Canadians or advertise gambling websites. Federal authorities have been reluctant to enforce laws against grey market operators like Bodog, which have spent millions of dollars on advertising with Canadian sports channels. The Kahnawake Mohawk reserve near Montreal became a global hub for various online gambling operators, including Bodog. 

Ayre and Bodog operations are now based in Antigua, a Caribbean country that became home to another Vancouver website that broke the law in 1999. 

Starnet International forfeited $4 million and was fined $100,000 after pleading guilty in 2001 to keeping or controlling a device for recording or registering bets.

On June 13, B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit held a news conference to reveal that it arrested nine people after a year-long investigation into money laundering through B.C. casinos that involved an organized crime group with links to China. 

theBreaker asked the CFSEU spokeswoman, Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, for an update on July 19. “Once charges are laid, we will release an update,” she said by email. 

On July 18, B.C. Premier John Horgan named David Eby the new Attorney General, with responsibility for BCLC and the Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch. In the June 29-defeated BC Liberal government, ex-Finance Minister Mike de Jong oversaw the marketing and regulation of gambling. 

Ayre Plea Bargain by BobMackin on Scribd