Bodog may be preparing to return to Costa Rica

Bodog has come a long way since its inception and has truly become a worldwide brand. Bodog started out in Costa Rica as a small gambling site (a combination of a couple of other lesser known names – The Big Book, Grand Prix and eSportz) but moved its main headquarters to Antigua in 2006 after

Bodog has come a long way since its inception and has truly become a worldwide brand. Bodog started out in Costa Rica as a small gambling site (a combination of a couple of other lesser known names – The Big Book, Grand Prix and eSportz) but moved its main headquarters to Antigua in 2006 after acquiring the assets of BetWWTS for $9 million when that company was forced to close as a result of the passing of the UIGEA in the U.S. Antigua was deemed to by Calvin Ayre, Bodog’s owner, to be a safer and more well respected jurisdiction than Costa Rica for gambling and the offices of WWTS were more appealing.

“This accords our gaming division a license in a safe, reliable and well-regulated jurisdiction and Antigua is also the right jurisdiction from where to run our European expansion,” Ayre stated in a press release after the move.

Not long after moving to Antigua, Bodog sold the U.S.-facing business to Morris Mohawk Gaming Group located in the Quebec native reserve of Kahnawake and renamed the company Bovada, choosing the website Bovada.lv. There were several reasons for this although the main reason was to separate the non U.S. business from the grey market U.S. gambling business which naturally was of interest to the feds. In 2011 the feds seized the Bodog.com website on a date known as Blue Monday but Bodog continued to operate freely and successfully as Bodog.eu which the U.S. couldn’t touch.

Over the next few years Bodog opened up regional offices in Europe Bodog moving to Costa Ricafor the non-gambling portion of the Bodog brand, but maintained the Antiguan office for the European, Canadian and Asian market. In 2012 that changed when Bodog management decided to create a new brand Bodog888 to cater to the Asian market and they moved all the gambling operations of Bodog888 to the Philippines which served a dual purpose – it had cheaper labor and it gave them better access to the Asian market. The move was anything but smooth. The company concentrated on casinos and poker, which apparently was meaningful, since 8 is the lucky number in Asia, and they hired on Bodog Europe CEO Patrik Selin and several of his cohorts to run Bodog888. Apparently that was a big mistake. The Philippines is a very corrupt country and according to posts on CalvinAyre.com the new management got caught up in the corruption. In October of 2013 Calvinayre.com writer Dan Taylor wrote a scathing article accusing Selin, Bodog888 managing director Jan Robert Gustafsson and several others of not only being corrupt but also of trying to defraud the company and embezzle money from other online gambling companies operating in the country. Gustafsson was eventually arrested but Selin apparently returned to Sweden and could not be charged with the crimes as there was no extradition treaty between the countries. In November, things got even more stressed when police raided the Bodog office in Makati, (part of the Cayagan Economic Zone) and while all issues apparently were settled, things remained tense. According to a one former employee Bodog was always under the watch of the police and government after that.

Despite all the issues, Bodog888 has continued to maintain a loyal customer base,s but things may have completely changed for the company in May when Rodrigo Duterte was elected as the new Philippine President. A brash dictator type of personality, Duterte won the election on the promise of “crushing crime” and on May 30th Duterte was sworn in. He wasted no time living up to his promise, having 30 drug dealers killed for their crimes and he even suggested to the public that they should kill any addicts because they are part of the problem as well:

“If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself,” Duterte said. “These sons of whores are destroying our children.”

“Sources have suggested that Bodog is looking for a contingency.”

So not surprisingly a lot of heads were turned when Duterte turned his focus to gambling in his first cabinet meeting. Duterte stated that he wanted a complete crackdown on gambling in the Philippines, including online gambling, and particularly casinos and e-bingo, because gambling harms the public and he didn’t believe the online gambling companies could be controlled nor did he believe they were paying the taxes they promised (although there is no evidence of such). But a Philippine lawyer who I have contacted in the past for other stories suggested that Duterte likely envisions a link between gambling and crime. Since he hopes his legacy will be of ‘the President that stopped crime’ he will be very vigilant to stop gambling as much as he can. As a result, PAGCOR (The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp) which runs all gambling in the Philippines and issues gambling licenses said they would suspend the issuing of any licenses until they could figure out what exactly the Duterte was saying. But this week Duterte clarified that he wants it all gone and is actually hoping to rescind licenses. Whether he can legally do this of course is irrelevant since the Philippines is very autocratic and what the President wants the President gets. And given Bodog’s icy relationship with the government it seems pretty clear which will be one of the first licenses taken away.

Consequently, sources have suggested that Bodog is looking for a contingency for its Bodog888 operation and, since no other Asian countries host online gambling, they are looking to go back to their roots and set up shop again in Costa Rica. Although this isn’t ideal, the company still has good relations with the Costa Rican government and still maintains a small office there. In addition, when they downsized in Costa Rica, they did so on good terms. If forced to relocate at the drop of a hat, Costa Rica has the Asian speaking clientele that could help the transition occur smoothly. Antigua isn’t a real option since the reason they moved from there in the first place still exists (not to mention the closing of the call center services) and it’s unlikely they could get a quick license in one of the European jurisdictions like Malta, Alderney or the Isle of Man, not to mention the cost of setting up there would be prohibitive.

So despite the old saying “you can never go home again”, Bodog may be preparing to do just that and head back to Costa Rica.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley’s RUMOR MILL!

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  • OSGA
    July 11, 2016, 6:00 pm

    As a follow up to this Rumor Mill piece, we got a note from Bodog that they’re are no plans to move back to Costa Rica and that this is an unsubstantiated rumor.

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