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Interesting industry weekend reading on Bodog and UltimateBet

There was some good weekend reading available for followers of the industry as InfoPowa went to press Saturday - a long article on Calvin Ayre and Bodog in the latest edition of Fast Company magazine, and a video-streamed interview with poker pro Annie Duke on the UltimateBet.com online poker scandal that continues to reverberate around both mainstream and industry media.

Writer Josh Dean "was dragged to Macau" to interview Bodog founder Calvin Ayre for an article on the international gambling group for New York-based Fast Company magazine, and he has come up with some interesting insights into not only the personal approach to life of the controversial Ayre, but also company statistics, marketing and branding practices and milestone events in the business that have impacted not only Bodog, but the industry in general.

Here's a small taster:

"Last year, the company claims, Bodog processed $12 billion in wagers and drew revenue of $320 million. Forty percent of the business was casino games; 30% poker; 20% sports betting; and 10% the various entertainment properties. As of March of this year, a company rep told me, Bodog employed several hundred people, including 15 bookmakers, at its Antigua headquarters (where it relocated in 2006), plus a few dozen in the U.K. and between 100 and 300 in Vancouver. The Ayre I met in Macau was feeling bullish. "I sell to people like me, who like what I like," he told me. "If I like it, there's a whole bunch of other people out there who like it too."

One glaring ommission in the article is the widely publicised patent tribulations Bodog has suffered with Dr. Scott Lewis's First Technology LLC company, which saw the Bodog domains confiscated, a $48 million default judgement against the company and some astonishingly insulting blog comments from Ayre. Perhaps this was not regarded as sufficiently important to bring to the attention of the writer.

The cheating scandals surrounding online poker sites UltimateBet.com and its sister AbsolutePoker.com (see previous InfoPowa reports) continue to make waves in both the mainstream and industry media and in the player community, and the latest element in what seems to be a concerted damage control initiative by the owners is a Poker News video-streamed interview with the much respected poker pro Annie Duke.

Duke has a long association with UltimateBet and has been involved in both operational and branding endorsement for the website. Apparently last fall she was disenchanted with the way things were going and was thinking about distancing herself from the enterprise. In January this year, the 'hole card' scandal broke and apparently the change of management that occurred convinced Duke to revise her position in a move that was "a big 180 for me."

The cause of this epiphany was apparently the transparency of the new management, headed by CEO Paul Leggett; the way in which it handled the crisis (paying out an unspecified but claimed "seven figures" to affected players); getting rid of the "bad apples" responsible for the scandal and a bigger say for Duke in the conduct of the business.

Judging by her comments in the interview Duke is now firmly on board and confident that the historical problems have been fully addressed, although management is still considering the pursuit of those responsible. This is apparently problematical due to legal considerations around identifying the culprits and under which jurisdiction to pursue them.

Duke follows the company line in claiming that company revenues were not affected by the crisis, which is surprising when one considers the magnitude of the cheating and the editorial coverage it received. The company strategy of recruiting big poker names to endorse the website is also apparent in her comments.

Listening to the interview, there are confusing references to both 'change of management' and 'change of ownership'. This gives little clarity on who owned Absolute/Ultimate Bet prior to its acquisition by Tokwiro Enterprises, a Kahnawake registered company owned by former Mohawk grand chief Joe Norton, or what Tokwiro paid for the companies and when.

The UltimateBet story is not about to fade away. In her interview Duke confirmed information circulating for some months in the industry that the mainstream television investigative program "60 Minutes" is about to air the scandals. Producers for the program contacted Duke whilst she was at the ongoing World Series of Poker, although she does not amplify what was discussed.

Subjectively speaking, we had the impression that this was a continuation of the damage control initiative which the "new management" has been so vigorously pursuing, suggesting that the impact of the cheating scandal may have been bigger than UB would like to acknowledge. The role of the major poker forums in driving the resolution of these scandals also appeared to be underplayed, whilst the proposition that bashing UB was not good for the industry is arguable.

That said, the potential for harm to the industry's credibility that an adverse "60 Minutes" take on the affair is likely to have is a legitimate concern. What a pity that the systems at UB/AP failed in the first place, bringing about this crisis.

Source: InfoPowa News

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