What do you get when you cross one of the online gambling industry’s biggest egos with a shady beginning and a name that doesn’t mean anything?
You get the makings of a story that is fit for a Netflix series.
For now, you get the history of the Bodog group of companies.
We are going to try to dissect how this site came from nothing to be one of the most recognized names in the world, with loads of controversy along the way.
The early days of Bodog can be a bit confusing, so we’ll try to take it slow for you. In 1997, a company called Cyberroad went public to raise money for an online gambling company. This company would use its software to power many sportsbooks, including TheBigBook.com, mayansports.com and grandprixsports.com.
The company’s unique take on sports betting was that all their licensees used a company called ebanx in order to process payments; this was a huge step up from the cash accounting that was taking place in the United States.
Around 2000, Cyberroad was in financial trouble and was ultimately sold to a company called El Moro Finance out of the British Virgin Islands. At that point, a subsidiary of that company was created called ESportz. They were based in Costa Rica (an up and coming hotbed of online sportsbook activity) and were set up to try to bring on new licensees.
When the sale was complete, The Big Book took over Grand Prix and continued to use the Esportz software. Mayan Sports, however, decided this was the time to move on, and they switched providers.
Strangely, the Mayan Sports database received an email introducing them to a new site, Bodog, and offered them a chance to have an account there. In fact, rumor had it that the Bodog introduction included information that the players already had accounts opened and waiting for them.
The Mayan ownership was rightfully pissed, but as they themselves did not have the most reputable history in the business, it was going to be hard to win this battle against a company they had never heard of before.
Who or What Is a Bodog?
Ok, are you with us so far?
So, you can imagine that players were initially confused by the invitation to Bodog, but the blog posts and information coming from their representative, Cole Turner, was appealing.
The company was setting a new bar for the sports betting public. It was clear that this company was trying to make a lifestyle out of online gambling. However, after a while it seemed that ego took over, and it was revealed that Cole Turner was actually Bodog founder Calvin Ayre.
While this alone may not have caused many waves, people started to put two and two together, and it was looking increasingly bad for Ayre. Ayre had been involved at Cyberroad as a client and denied having anything to do with ebanx.
However, given that he had been involved with Cyberroad, then took it over and started Esportz and Bodog once it failed, you can imagine how upset the original investors were. Add in the Mayan Sports claims of having their database stolen by Bodog, and it all seemed to be a bit fishy.
We have a full bio of Calvin Ayre which you can read here:
However, for the purposes of the history of Bodog, it is essential that you know a little bit about the man. Born the son of pig farmers in western Canada, Ayre had already seen his fair share of trouble with the law before getting into the online gambling business.
He had been seen as a conspirator in a huge marijuana smuggling operation his father was found guilty of running in 1987 (Ayre himself was never charged). Then, in 1991, he again found himself in trouble with the law; this time it was the securities commission in Canada which charged him with insider trading in regards to stocks on the Vancouver stock exchange.
He agreed to a settlement in the case, but was still banned from trading. All this led to his getting into the online gambling business. More on Ayre to come.
When Bodog launched, they shared an office with The Big Book. This only made sense as the two companies were using the same software platform, and that allowed the companies to make use of the economies of scale.
However, this ended up being more controversial than anyone could have imagined, as one of the employees was found to be embezzling significant amounts of funds in an attempt to start a competing company and steal their clients.
Luckily for Bodog, this attempt was sniffed out and, with the help of an anonymous forum post outlining all of the details (supposedly written by Ayre himself), the employee was arrested and charged.
The Bodog/Big Book Partnership dissolved in 2003, leaving Bodog as the only operator using the ESportz platform.
With all of this controversy seemingly behind them, it was time to focus on growing the company and the Bodog brand. The company had seen a lot of press from within the industry as a result of all of these salacious stories, and they looked to capitalize on this by really focusing on the brand as opposed to the product.
The name Bodog is intriguing in itself. Over the years, Ayre has explained in detail how he came up with the name—scientifically determining the factors necessary to create a household brand name. This included a study on the number of syllables, the type of sounds and what kind of word would be the most resonant.
The next step for the company was to expand their product line. In 2004, they made a splash by launching a poker site. They did this at their Sports betting conference, which they organized for Las Vegas.
This was where most of the gambling industry first saw the Bodog party machine in full effect; renting out a nightclub in Las Vegas and filling it with sports celebrities and scantily-clad women would be a signature move of Bodog’s in the coming years.
The poker site was quick to sign some well-known names to be their poker ambassadors, and they were soon found on many televised poker programs broadcasted around the world.
The next two years were arguably the best for Bodog when it came to growth and exposure, but ultimately may have caused a lot more pain for them in the long term. In 2005, the company once again ran its Poker and Sports Marketing Conference, this time attracting well over 1,000 attendees.
The Bodog compound was being built in Costa Rica, and it was there that many of the lavish parties that made Bodog famous were held. In fact, the party scenes in the movie Runner Runner were modeled after the famous Bodog parties.
Not satisfied with plastering the Bodog name all over the gambling world, Ayre turned his attention to building the Bodog brand (along with his own personal exposure). Bodog used their huge gaming success to foray into several businesses, including a music label (Bodog Music), an MMA fighting company (Bodog Fight) and their own take on football (Bodog Lingerie Bowl).
All of these new ventures included a couple of consistent characteristics: the Bodog brand, which was all over each of the companies, and the face of their legendary Founder, Calvin Ayre.
Ayre’s ego was now at an all-time high; there wasn’t a picture of him without at least a couple of Bodog beauties draped all over him, and the man wanted to be at the center of all the publicity around his companies. This resulted in a reality-style show being developed, which was poker based in essence, but showed off Ayre buying luxurious items in cash around the world.
The online gambling industry had a playboy, and while he wasn’t shy about it, it did make him (and Bodog) a moving target.
By 2006, Bodog was climbing to new heights outside of the gaming industry, and in early 2006, they cemented their spot in the sportsbook world with the purchase of the legendary WWTS from Bill Scott.
This purchase came with offices in Antigua, which would come to be of major importance to the company and Ayre down the road.
Meanwhile, Ayre himself had become one of the gaming world’s most influential people. This influence also came with considerable wealth, which was confirmed with Ayre being featured on the cover of the Forbes Billionaire’s Issue.
The article written about Ayre in the magazine was titled “Catch Me If You Can” – this would be a sign of things to come. In October of 2006, when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed into law in the United States, many of the top operators found themselves in a lot of trouble.
Ayre himself got out in front of this issue, posting on the site that their domain had been seized as it ownership was being challenged by a company called 1st Technologies.
This company claimed that they had a patent on the technology behind running an online gambling site (this “troll” had also tried to sure many of the other large gaming sites including PokerStars and BetCRIS.)
However, the big issue for Bodog was that unlike the other companies who were all offshore, Ayre still had assets in his name in the U.S. that could be accessed in the case of this suit.
A judge declared that Bodog was, in fact, in violation of these patents and awarded 1st Technologies an award of almost 50 million dollars. It was at this time that Bodog announced that they no longer owned the company, having licensed the name and sold the operation to Mohawk Morris Gaming Group, based on the Kahnawake Reservation in Quebec, Canada.
The damage was done. the Bodog brand took a hit on search engines, and tens of millions of dollars were seized by the Department of Justice. Incredibly, Mohawk Morris did finally get the Bodog.com domain back in early 2009 by paying the full amount to 1st Technologies, but by then, Bodog was under major scrutiny from the U.S. government.
This settlement also clouded the actual arrangement between Mohawk Morris and Ayre, who actually paid that settlement and who then owned the Bodog name.
Graph for Bodog: 2004 – present
**Courtesy of Google Trend
As a result of all the issues in the U.S., Bodog was closed in the U.S., and a site called Bovada.lv was launched soon after; the branding and color schemes are almost identical to Bodog, but the separate branding kept Bodog at arms-length.
In the meantime, the Bodog brand was marketed regionally as a way to grow the overall business. The results were impressive. Bodog is a huge brand in Canada (as can be seen in the Google Trend graph below) and the Bodog88 site was quickly becoming one of the biggest in the Asian market as well.
Global Map: 2004 - present
**Courtesy of Google Trend
Bodog continued its European growth with the sponsorship of several football clubs across the top leagues. This branding space was open to all gaming sites, which could be seen in the late 2000s as many companies fought for the precious on-jersey advertising space.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice finally made a move on sites that were taking U.S. players. Many of the top poker sites were shut down, and in the wake of all of this activity, Bodog.com was once again seized.
Again, a series of coincidental events took place inside of Bodog. In 2011, the company announced that the licensing agreement for Bodog.com would end with Mohawk Morris.
This was seen as a way to protect the other assets of Mohawk Morris which included most of the international Bodog brands.
Regardless, the DoJ still seized the Bodog domain in early 2012 in conjunction with the unsealing of documents indicting Bodog and Ayre for their illegal gambling activities.
The domain was owned by an Antiguan company (remember when we said that would factor in later on?); the country has many times gone to the World Trade Organization to fight the U.S. for interfering with Antiguan companies which operate in their own sovereign jurisdiction.
They have won judgments against the U.S. in the past, and they fought for Bodog in this case as well. The Bodog.com domain was finally released in 2017 as a result of a settlement of the case against Ayre, which left with no charges against the now retired gaming legend.
One thing has been consistent over the years of operating the Bodog brand—the company has always been looking for ways to get their name out there outside of the traditional gambling circles. Since 2010, the company has entered a sponsorship with Ayr United Football Club (see what they did there?) as well as licensing Illy coffee to be rebranded as Bodog Coffee in the Philippines.
They continued to make waves in the sports world, signing an Asian sports betting deal with Arsenal Football Club and maintaining a presence in the Canadian sports landscape.
However, none of that is likely to come to light at this stage. Bodog continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the gambling world; they recently sold their poker network to an Asian company, but remain a licensee of that new ownership group.
While Bodog continues to grow in Canada and Europe, Ayre himself has moved on to the cryptocurrency world. As the payment processing became more costly and harder to find for the online gambling world, Ayre dove into the Bitcoin world at its outset and is now one of the foremost experts on the topic.
In fact, soon after the charges were dropped against him in the United States, the Antiguan Government named Ayre a Special Economic Envoy of the country, with an eye to bringing cryptocurrency jobs to the island nation.
Bodog burst onto the scene in the early 2000s under a cloud of controversy, but they weathered that storm and, with the efforts of their determined founder Calvin Ayre, grew to incredible heights.
They have had their fair share of setbacks along the way, but the Bodog brand continues to be one of the most recognizable around the world.