History of Bodog and Bovada
Bovada.lv is a new online gambling site powered by Bodog. They are owned by Mohawk Morris Gaming Group (MMGG) who has been licensing Bodog software, brand name, and support services since 2007. With Bodog now growing in legal markets, they no longer want for their brand name associated with United States gambling. As a result, the new Bovada.lv brand was created on December 14, 2011 for US players, while non-US players still use Bodog branded websites. Below, we cover their history in great depth.
Starting as a Software Company
The history of Bodog/Bovada starts with a software company called Cyberoad established in 1997. This company powered three of the Internet's first online sportsbooks: mayansports.com, thebigbook.com, and granprixsports.com, each launched in 1998.
These gambling sites were unique, having a payment system called eBanx that allowed bettors to fund their accounts with credit cards, and cash out with e-checks. As you can learn in our history of sportsbook.com (another competitor from the same era) this was unusual. Most online gambling sites back then relied on Western Union or cash agents, making online payment processing a huge plus.
Sometime in 1999, Cyberoads purchased ebanx, although there was a strong indication that they already owned ebanx. The mastermind behind all this is believed to be Calvin Ayre, a "consultant" to both Cyberoad and eBanx, while his company El Moro Finance Ltd. (BVI) was a secured creditor. However this played out (there are multiple sides to the story), in late 2000 after raising a lot of cash with a plan to go public, Cyberoad failed. El Moro Finance Ltd. (BVI) ended up acquiring its assets, which were then assigned to a subsidiary called eSportz that showed up in late 2000 claiming to have been in the business of providing software since 1995.
From Software Company to Gambling Site
When Cyberoad failed, the three sportsbooks it powered were without software. Grand Prix and the Big Book were both based in the same office in Costa Rica, but they had separate ownership. The Big Book ended up purchasing Grand Prix and then signed on to use the same software, now branded as eSportz. Mayan Sports, however, was located in the Dominican Republic and apparently didn't come to terms with eSportz. This caused a major controversy which involved the creation of Bodog.
In early 2001, Mayan Sports was still offline when many of their clients got an email from a then unheard of sportsbook called bodog.com, claiming their user name and password would now work here. As it turns out, Bodog was a self-operated brand by eSportz that shared an office with their primary client, The Big Book. For years to come, Mayan would accuse Bodog of having stolen their clients.
The theft allegations by Mayan Sports escalated in later years when it was discovered that the Bodog founder and CEO, then using the alias Cole Turner, was actually Calvin Ayre. This was hugely controversial since at the time, the industry was not yet aware that he was behind El Moro Finance Ltd. (BVI). The actual story came out later that he had raised capital for Cyberoad as a "consultant", it failed, and a company he controlled acquired all the assets, at which time he began using an alias (Cole Turner).
The self-told story about his past is that he was born to Canadian pig and grain farmers in 1961. After college and a few failed business ventures, he sold everything he owned to raise $10,000 in 1994 to start a software company that would become Bodog. What's often omitted from the story is that his father was convicted in 1987 for smuggling 750 pounds of marijuana. While Calvin was not charged or arrested, he was referred to by the judge as a co-conspirator who "undoubtedly played a part." In a separate run in with the law, in 1991 he was civilly charged with insider trading, but settled for a $10,000 fine and was banned from the Vancouver Stock Exchange until 2016.
When it was discovered that Cole Turner was actually Calvin Ayre (the owner of Bodog and eSportz), this made Mayan Sports and many Cyberoad investors angry. It's fair to say that Calvin Ayre had no shortage of enemies in his early career. However, looking ahead to today, Bodog has always been an honest and reputable gambling site that has paid all winners. Mayan, on the other hand, proved to be a rogue gambling site (D+ rated currently). It's difficult without all the facts to implicate Calvin Ayre of much, but based on track records running a gambling site, Calvin Ayre's reputation is spotless from the perspective of Bodog account holders and their payments.
To get back on track with the timeline of Bovada history, as mentioned, the company that started Bodog, eSportz was powering The Big Book and sharing an office. Each company used the same payment and accounting firm as well. The story of their falling out with Bodog involves a woman named Viktoria Zazoulina (known as Vika) who had immigrated from the Ukraine to Vancouver, BC, Canada in early 1990's.
Vika took a position with Kazootek Technologies Ltd. at their start (strongly believed to have been another Calvin Ayre company) that did all the financial accounting for the ebanx payment system. Vika started as a junior accountant and had such a good (perceived) work ethic that her supervisors increased her pay and covered her schooling towards a CGA designation (Canada's word for CPA). She eventually reached the top of the company and hired her friend Tatiana Kostiouk (known as Tanya).
In time, both Vika and Tanya became signing officers in most of the company's Kazootek Technologies Ltd. (meaning they had access to all bank accounts). By this time, Vika was a true immigration success story earning over $100,000 per year. However, on June 15th of 2001, life changed. This was the date on which Vika and Tanya signed the first of many checks used to embezzle large sums of cash from clients, most of which considered them close friends. As they stole and got away with it for years, their confidence grew. They enrolled a new employee, Greg Tanner, to help start a competing company, which used technology stolen from Kazootek and finance money from their clients.
According to an article (no longer online) that we suspect was written by Calvin Ayre, they soon dragged The Big Book into a plan to become a client and began conspiring how to steal the source code from eSportz. With an investigation already under way into the strange behavior seen from Vika in recent months, alarm bells went off when she gave her two-week notice in mid-2003. Not allowing her to destroy evidence for the next two weeks, she was immediately escorted out of the building, and her office and computers were locked down for forensic audit. The aftermath was the filling of a lawsuit, and Bodog ending its partnership with The Big Book. From this day forward, Bodog.com was the only brand powered by the eSportz software.
Bodog Poker Launched in 2004
Shortly after freeing themselves from their role as a software provider, Bodog got to work aggressively building both their gambling site and brand name. 2004 was a great year for online poker with the boom created by Chris Moneymaker winning the 2003 WSOP Main Even. Bodog took advantage by launching an online poker site, fueling a ton of branding and marketing opportunities.
The first of many correct poker decisions Bodog made was signing 2004 WSOP Main Event runner-up, David Williams, and third place finisher, Josh Arieh, to their new team of sponsored Bodog poker pros. Williams was an amateur player with little poker experience at the time. However, he'd quickly finish as runner up in a WPT event, win a WSOP bracelet in 2006, make another WPT final table, and then win the 2010 WPT championship. This was huge for Bodog, and he turned out to be a great ambassador of the sport while wearing Bodog gear. Josh Arieh, already a professional with a 1999 WSOP bracelet, turned out to be a great investment as well. He won a 2005 WSOP bracelet while sporting a Bodog logo.
Bodog continued to build their brand with a televised poker series launched in 2005 called Calvin Ayre Wild Card Poker and multiple television commercials running in the US for their free version of poker located at bodog.net. The beauty of .net is they could advertise free play poker in the US, where gambling advertisements are banned, and still build name recognition. Anyone doing a Google search or just typing in the .com would soon see that Bodog offered a real money poker site as well.
Bodog Purchases WWTS
One of the oldest and most trusted gambling sites servicing the US market was WorldWide TeleSports (WWTS). This company was launched in Antigua in 1994 as a toll-free phone-in betting shop before later launching betwwts.com online sportsbook, and poker sites betholdem.com and 123poker.com. They also had a large number of white label brands promoting their products. This company was massively successful thanks to gambling hall of famer Billy Scott running the show.
When Billy Scott eventually retired, he handed off the reigns to a man you can learn about in our history of Pinnacle Sports and intertops.eu named Simon Noble. Perhaps it had something to do with not having the same passion when owning most of the shares, but the business slipped after Scott left. In poor financial shape, Bodog purchased them for $9 million in October, 2006. Bodog acquired offices in Antigua, moved their accounts (including white labels) to Bodog.com, and started claiming that their history dated back to 1994. This is a bit quirky as there was no Bodog in 1994; they are simply claiming the start date of the brand they later purchased and closed. In any case, this was a great move that made Bodog even more popular.
Bodog Begins Focusing on Their Brand
Calvin Ayre was all about branding and saw this as the key to success. His strategy was for Bodog to represent fun and excitement, etc. He viewed Bodog as a brand similar to Richard Branson's Virgin. To follow through, he started numerous non-gambling ventures using the Bodog name, some of which are included below:
- Bodog Handicapper Challenge (2004) - a betting contest hosted in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay featuring Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana that also held a poolside party at the Palms Hotel.
- BodogBEAT (2004) - a blog that covered sports news and current events. It has since become gamblingbeat.com due to the change to the Bovada.lv domain.
- Bodog Music (2005) - their own Bodog indy music label representing DMX, Wu Tang Clan, Billy Idol, and others.
- Bodog Lingerie Bowl (2006) - Bodog got sexy women to play football in the Lingerie Bowl, which took place at half time during the Super Bowl and was available for PPV.
- Bodog Fight (2006) - Bodog established their own mixed-martial-arts (MMA) brand which had fights air on Men's Outdoor Recreation and on DISH Network.
- Bodog Battle of the Bands (2007) - a new show on FUSE network that sought music talent. The show featured Jonny Rotten, Bif Naked, and Billy Duff.
Calvin Ayre also did wonders building his own name. In addition to making the Forbes magazine Billionaire list in 2006, he has been featured on MTV Cribs for his mansion in Costa Rica and has appeared on BNN, VH1, Extra, Careers TV, and CNBC. He's been named Star magazine's "Most Eligible Billionaire Bachelor" and one of People magazine's "Hottest Bachelors". This is a man who no doubt has lived an incredible lifestyle with the world watching, which in turn has provided Bodog with great exposure.
Bodog Experiences Set Backs
On August 28, 2007, the domain bodog.com stopped working. Calvin Ayre himself sent out an email using the address [email protected] signed Calvin Ayre, Bodog Founder. This email said:
The following day he sent another email informing that the problems were due to an ownership dispute they were working to get settled as soon as possible and that Bodog was now available at newbodog.com.
The company who now controlled the Bodog.com domain name was 1ST TECHNOLOGY LLC of the United States. This company held patents related to a "method and system for interactively transmitting multimedia information over a network which requires a reduced bandwidth." To be clear, what Bodog did was no different than any other gambling site. 1ST TECHNOLOGY LLC has sued PokerStars, FutureBet (Oddsmaker), Cake Poker, BetCRIS, and other gambling sites for violating the same patent. The difference with Bodog was that Calvin Ayre actually had assets in Las Vegas, NV that the company was able to go after.
Starting in July of 2005, the 1ST TECHNOLOGY, LLC law firm sent multiple letters to Calvin Ayre's San Jose Costa Rican address listed on the Bodog website. When they didn't get a reply, they finally filed a lawsuit in September of 2006 and called Bodog's customer service group, who said they'd pass the message on to the legal department. Bodog claimed they received none of these letters. This escalated so that eventually Bodog failed to appear in court; and in March, 2007, a judge issued a default judgment ordering Bodog to pay (with interest) $48,937,456 to 1st Technology for patent infringement. With this judgment, they eventually were able to gain control of the Bodog.com domain.
After the domain stopped resolving on August 28, 2007, less than two weeks later on September 6, 2007, Bodog published a press release claiming Mohawk Morris Gaming Group was now licensing their brand and controlling all US business. They used the defense in court that the domain awarded to 1ST TECHNOLOGY LLC was no longer owned by Bodog or Calvin Ayre. After several appeals, the case moved to Washington, and this defense wasn't successful. In fact, a judge ordered all bank accounts and tax verifications: perhaps a challenge due to the nature of Calvin Ayre's business dealings.
The loss of the Bodog.com name was costly to the company. They had previously ranked high in Google for key terms such as poker, online poker, betting sites, gambling sites, various sports leagues, casino games, and similiar phrases. In order to compensate, they rebranded as BodogLife.com and began relying heavily on affiliates. Between millions paid to affiliates in commissions and the loss of income from search engine traffic, Bodog was in poor financial shape.
Making matters worse was the fact that the IRS and Maryland DOJ managed to seize $14.2 million on February 19, 2008 and $9.87 million on July 2, 2008 from payment processors of cash belonging to Bodog.
Finally, in April 2009, Mohawk Morris Gaming Group paid 1ST TECHNOLOGY LLC $49 million in settlements and got back access to the Bodog.com domain. In just a matter of days, bodoglife.com was redirected to Bodog.com and all was restored.
Bodog Grows with International Expansion
With their domain back, Bodog's revenue increased greatly, and they began licensing other versions of the brand the same way they were licensing the .com to Mohawk Morris Gaming Group (MMGG). This saw the creation of Bodog.ca in Canada. Bodog88.com focused on the Asian market, and Bodog.co.uk focused on the UK. Although the circumstances and timing are a bit suspect, Bodog claims they are now just a branding company that no longer operates gambling sites.
Calvin Ayre often compares his strategy to that of Richard Branson and Virgin. The success their brands have experienced in other markets is quite impressive. They've sponsored English Premier League teams and have taken bets at the stadium. Bodog88 is very popular in China and Thailand, while Bodog.ca is the most popular gambling site in Canada.
As a reminder, Bovada.lv is the US version of Bodog. Mohawk Morris Gaming Group (MMGG) owns them, a private company headquartered in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada. and part of the seven communities that make up the Mohawk Nation. Although operating from a sovereign Indian Reservation where no financial reporting is required, MMGG is considered highly reputable.
The CEO of MMGG is Alwyn Morris (born November 22, 1957). He's a Canadian sprint kayaker who won two Olympic medals (including one gold medal) for Canada in 1984. He's also been awarded the Order of Canada for work with Aboriginal youth in the field of Alcohol and Drug abuse and was senior advisor to the Chief and Council of the Kahnawake Mohawks for twelve years. Under the Mohawk Morris Gaming Group, Bodog, and now Bovada, have a great track record for customer support, payments, and fair gambling policies. You can now access their website at www.bovada.lv.
This concludes the story of Bovada/Bodog up until the creation of Bovada.lv on December 14, 2011. While the two companies have a history that will always be intertwined at the roots, from this date on each has begun building a separate one of their own. This means that Bovada happenings don't influence Bodog much, and Bodog happenings don't matter much to Bovada. They are separate companies, each having unique ownership.