The U.S. government has indicted four Canadians for running an Internet gambling site, including a flamboyant billionaire who hit the cover of Forbes magazine in 2006.
Prosecutors in Maryland have charged Calvin Ayre, 50, and three other Canadian founders of Bodog.com with running an "illegal sports gambling business."
"None of the defendants are in custody. They are all up there in Canada," said Vickie Leduc, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Maryland.
Mr. Ayre, the son of a Saskatchewan pig farmer, built his Bodog brand with a flair for publicity; and there was no sporting event the site would not take bets on.
Just last week, for example, Bodog announced odds in this spring's charity boxing match between two Canadian parliamentarians – favouring Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau over Liberal MP Justin Trudeau. The pair will trade punches to raise money for cancer treatment.
The indictment occurs in an ongoing U.S. government crackdown against multinational Internet-gambling sites, which have long existed in a legal grey area given their servers are inevitably located in offshore jurisdictions.
Detective R. Scott Gunn of the U.S. Homeland Security has sworn an affidavit alleging that much of Bodog's illegal gambling activity was actually facilitated in Canada.
"Bodog has hundreds of employees, located in Canada and Costa Rica, who handle the day-to-day operations," according to the affidavit.
The U.S. government knows this, the detective says, because it has been talking to a former Bodog employee who has been serving as a confidential informant.
Detective Gunn states that one of his Maryland-based task force agents placed winning bets and received payouts through Bodog.com over the past five months – and that this shows that the domain violates U.S. law.
Several Canadian billionaires have been targeted in the crackdown. Last year, Isai Scheinberg, the Canadian founder of PokerStars.com, was indicted on similar charges.
On Tuesday, a Canadian man pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with a government crackdown on Internet poker gambling that shut down the three largest online poker companies in the U.S. Ryan Lang entered the plea in federal court in Manhattan.
Mr. Lang says he served as a middleman, helping the poker companies arrange to circumvent U.S. laws meant to prevent banks from processing online gambling proceeds. He says he carried out the crimes from 2007 to the middle of 2010.
Mr. Lang says he operated from Canada, helping financial brokers who made false statements to the banks to trick them into processing payments.
While the U.S. has passed stiff laws against Internet gambling, a lack of comparable legislation in other jurisdictions has stifled bids to extradite out-of-country suspects to the United States for trial.
In response to the new allegations, Mr. Ayre posted his reaction on his personal website: "I see this as abuse of the U.S. criminal justice system," he said in a statement. "....It is clear that the online gaming industry is legal under international law."
A spokesman for the Bodog group said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seized the Bodog.com domain on Monday.
The statement said that the U.S. site has been essentially defunct in recent weeks, switching its operations to "Bodog UK, Bodog Europe and Bodog Asia" and that these have "never taken bets from the U.S."
The other Canadians named in the indictment are Bodog's James Philip, David Ferguson, and Derrick Maloney.
With a file from the Associated Press