Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Bravado of Bovada

Welcome to BovadaThis morning Bodog -- the site where even Americans can still play online poker for real money as well as bet on sports, horse racing, and play other casino games -- shifted its American customers over to a new site awkwardly called “Bovada.”

The new site appears to feature all of the same software and design as the Bodog site, with only the URL and name differing. According to the site’s welcome page, the new name was chosen deliberately to begin with the same letters as Bodog so as to help users “find us in your browser for the next few weeks.”

The site has an odd “.lv” extension (a Latvian domain), which it explains is meant to “remind our players of Las Vegas, the number one gambling destination in the U.S.” And, of course, the made-up word “Bovada” sounds a little like Nevada as well, thus perhaps furthering the association.

While the rest of the world continues to play and gamble on Bodog, then, we Americans are now being invited to visit Bovada, a kind of mythical destination where I suppose we are to believe U.S. laws cannot reach.

Way back when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was first signed into law and the possible fate of U.S.-facing online poker sites was first being discussed, nearly everyone held up Bodog as the least likely to survive in the U.S. going forward. Remember? The fact that Bodog offered other gambling games, especially sports betting, alongside poker, caused most in the poker world to believe the site couldn’t possibly be long for the U.S. post-UIGEA.

Calvin Ayre on the cover of ForbesSome of us also recall Calvin Ayre (who founded Bodog back in 2004) brazenly appearing on the cover of Forbes magazine and being featured in a story whose title -- “Catch Me If You Can” -- paraphrased the entrepreneur’s attitude toward the U.S. Department of Justice. That, too, made it look like Ayre was just asking for trouble, which in a few short months would potentially arrive in the form of the UIGEA.

Lots of talk at the time by poker people over whether or not our favorite game was in fact covered under the UIGEA’s original definition of a “bet or wager” as “the staking or risking by any person of something of value upon the outcome of a contest of others, a sporting event, or a game subject to chance.” However one came down on that one -- then or now -- all tended to agree that what Bodog was doing by offering sports betting along with other games pretty obviously subject to chance must make them a more obvious target.

But somehow they perservered. On Black Friday, when we first scanned the list of sites targeted -- PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet -- many were surprised Bodog had escaped being included in that list.

Sorta seems like ever since I first opened an account on Bodog way back in late 2006 they’ve been on the move.

It was right about the time I first started playing on Bodog that the site announced it was planning to scale back its advertising in the U.S. This was back during that brief period when 2006 WSOP Main Event champion Jamie Gold was representing Bodog, a relationship fated to last only a short time.

I wrote Bodog at the time asking about the decision regarding advertising and whether they like Party and others were about to leave hte U.S. They wrote back to confirm their plans while also underscoring their stance that the site was “completely legal” and a “legitimate business.”

BodoglifeThen a few months later, in a somewhat less legitimate-seeming turn, Bodog temporarily lost their domain. Remember in the summer of 2007 when they suddenly went offline for half a day when they lost the dot-com thanks to some legal legerdemain by an enterprising web designer who’d sued them for patent infringement? They were for a short while after that, then, then they finally got their dot-com back.

I know Bodog didn’t take bets from Canadians for a long time, then opened up in 2009 via site. Last May -- after Black Friday -- Bodog finally got rid of the dot-com site altogether, moving the operation entirely over to (The Canadian site now redirects there, too, I believe.)

It wasn’t long after that (in July), that we heard about this move to eliminate the Bodog brand in the U.S. Sounded at first like Bodog was pulling out of America altogether, but we soon came to understand that wasn’t the case.

Then in September the site removed full tables from their lobby to try to thwart PokerScout and anyone else tracking what was happening on the site. Didn’t exactly work as planned, but the change did make it less simple for most of us to know what exactly was happening on the site.

And, of course, a couple of weeks ago came the move to wholly anonymous play at the poker tables, a move accompanied by a variety of stated motives but which also obviously makes it more difficult for observers to observe.

Yes, Bodog -- or Bovada -- is still here.

I’ve long stopped playing on the site. And with anonymous tables, I can’t say I’m at all enthused about ever hopping back on there again. Can’t help but continue to be intrigued by the site having endured in the U.S. to this point, though. And even if I’m not a participating citizen of Bovada, I expect I’ll still be monitoring its diplomatically difficult co-existence within American borders.

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Blogger Paboo said...

Is Bodog really out of the US market? What I mean is Bovada is just a skin of the BodogNetwork now. All the players on Bodog, Bovada, Bodog88? play together.

Is Bovada really a brand new site or is it just a thinly veiled attempt at setting up a 'shell corp.' type poker site.

Mat make some since for the site to go anonymous to prevent the DOJ from knowing where players are playing from... but they should of just hidden user's location.

12/15/2011 12:32 PM  
Blogger lightning36 said...

Certainly some curious moves. Wonder what the site will be like twelve months from now?

12/15/2011 3:01 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Right, Paboo... Bodog is still essentially serving the U.S., it is just the branding is different -- so, yeah, a "shell" is a way to describe it. A move designed to protect the Bodog brand outside of the U.S. should the DoJ decide enough is enough, I imagine. (Another reason for U.S. players to be wary about putting money there.)

Good question, Lightning36... I'd be tempted to say long gone from the U.S., but as mentioned in the post, I've thought that before about Bodog.

12/15/2011 3:37 PM  

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