Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bodog Catcher

Bodog catcherNearly a year after the Black Friday indictments -- and a long, long time since the feds first took an interest in Calvin Ayre and his Bodog gambling website -- Bodog’s dot-com domain was seized yesterday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And this morning we have learned that Ayre has been indicted for operating an illegal gambling business offering sports betting and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

News of the domain seizure came last night, about two months after Bodog had shuffled everyone over to its new Bovada.lv site where Americans continue to play anonymous poker and bet on sports unimpeded.

It was just a few hours ago that news of the Ayre indictment being unsealed appeared over on Forbes. According to Nathan Vardi, the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore is charging Ayre with having violated Maryland state law by running (with others) his illegal gambling business “from June 2005 to January 2012.” Vardi explains that the indictment also highlights the moving of funds to and from various international accounts as well as “the hiring of media resellers and advertisers to promote Internet gambling.”

The fact that the feds have finally gotten to the point of acting with regard to Ayre and Bodog is noteworthy. Indeed, for a lot of observers one of the early follow-up thoughts regarding the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint targeting PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute/UB was “What about Bodog?”

The feds had seized funds from accounts being used by Bodog way back in 2008, and of course had been watching the site long before that. And even if Bodog was small scale, poker-wise, there was the sports betting. But it took 10-plus more months for any action against Bodog to arrive.

It will be interesting, of course, to see whether or not these moves will preface further efforts by the U.S. government to deal with Bovada’s continued acceptance of U.S. bets, or if their last-minute move back in December will successfully shield the operation from any interruption of service.

Some are responding to the news about Bodog and Ayre with cries of “Merge is next,” although it seems like the fact that Bodog/Bovada has always offered sports betting makes it a different animal than the other, small poker-only sites continuing to serve Americans. The allegations concerning advertising are interesting, too, perhaps having to do with the continued prominence of Bodog’s sportsbook in the U.S. as well as its popularity among American sports bettors.

Merge’s days in the U.S. may well be numbered, especially if any of the cashout procedures being used by the network’s sites make them vulnerable to those conspiracy to commit money laundering and/or bank fraud charges. Recall that alarm sounded Subject:Poker last September that the “DOJ Plans Action Against Merge.” While nothing ever came of that, those whispers that were then loudly relayed apparently emanated from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, too.

Since this Ayre indictment specifically references sports betting, the only form of online gambling unequivocally covered by the Federal Wire Act according to the DOJ’s revised opinion back in December, I don’t necessarily think this news has too much to do with the current prospects for Merge or other U.S.-facing poker sites. Other than to indicate in a general way what we already knew, namely, that the policing of online gambling continues to be of interest to prosecutors. (For more on the Ayre indictment, see Michael Gentile’s analysis over on PokerFuse.)

Still, even if the status of Merge and the other sites hasn’t changed, it remains tenuous. Maybe Bovada will post a line for us to bet on how long the remaining sites’ will last.

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