|Education||Bachelor of Science, University of Waterloo|
MBA, City University of Seattle
|Known for||founding the Ayre Group and launching the Bodog entertainment company|
|Title||Special Economic Envoy to the Government of Antigua|
|Board member of||Calvin Ayre Foundation|
Calvin Edward Ayre (born May 25, 1961, in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan) is a Canadian-Antiguan entrepreneur based in Antigua and Barbuda. He is the founder of the Ayre Group and Bodog entertainment brand.
In 2000, Ayre launched online gambling company Bodog, the success of which made him a billionaire. Ayre's notoriety increased in the mid-2000s as online gaming's popularity surged, landing him on the cover of Forbes magazine's 2006 annual Billionaires edition and Star magazine's "Most Eligible Billionaire Bachelors" list in late 2007.
In 2012, Ayre was indicted by the US Attorney for Maryland on charges of illegal gambling and money laundering. Despite the Antiguan government’s view that the charges against Ayre were “completely contrary to binding international agreements,” in 2017, he pled guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and all other charges against him were dropped. In August 2017, Ayre was appointed as an Economic Envoy for Antigua and Barbuda to advise on developments in blockchain technology.
Ayre grew up on a farm outside Lloydminster, Saskatchewan and graduated from high school in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. His parents were grain and pig farmers. In 1984, he received a Bachelor of science (BSc) in general sciences from the University of Waterloo, adding an MBA in management finance from City University of Seattle in 1989.
In 1992, after reading a newspaper article about a Caribbean-based company offering betting services over the telephone, Ayre concluded that gambling was tailor-made for the internet. Having taught himself network design by studying Cisco Systems manuals, Ayre converted his Vancouver-based Internet incubator company into a software support firm for online gambling, which became Bodog. He was able to license his software to several online casinos but soon realized the real money was in running his own gaming operation. His gambling business was setup in 1996 and was based in Costa Rica. Bodog.com was established in 2000.
Canadian Business reported "the Bodog name is part of an ambitious branding strategy that Ayre envisioned from the start. He came up with it while typing potential brand names into an Internet domain-registration search engine one night. He chose the appellation like a major corporation would pick the name of a new car or brand of soft drink: it had to have six letters or less, be easy to spell and remember, have some personality and be unlike any competitor's moniker. The last criterion was easy to fill since most of Bodog's rivals prefer straightforward brand names such as PartyPoker.com or Sportsbook.com." As the face of the Bodog brand, Ayre's public profile increased in the mid-2000s as online gaming’s popularity surged. He was featured as the cover story for Forbes 2006 annual Billionaires edition. and Star magazine’s "Most Eligible Billionaire Bachelors" list in late 2007.
Ayre chose to make himself the focus of Bodog's marketing strategy, creating a public profile designed to showcase the trappings of a jackpot-winning lifestyle. He hosted lavish parties in Costa Rica and Antigua, with bikini-clad "Bodog Girls" and armed bodyguards in attendance, and the media noted his reputation as a man who likes to party. The Bodog website and press materials are filled with photographs of Ayre drinking on yachts with scantily clad models, partying with celebrities and living what he called "the Bodog lifestyle." Ayre claims that the ‘bad boy adventurer’ image projected in Bodog marketing only worked because it was based on something genuine. "The lifestyle I sell is about 80% the reality of what I live." The business expanded rapidly, recording turnover of US$7,300,000,000 and revenue of US$210,000,000 in 2005. As Bodog grew in prominence, Ayre appeared on episodes of MTV Cribs, VH1's Fabulous Life of…, Extra, and ABC Nightline. In 2006, Ayre was named one of People magazine's 40 hottest bachelors and appeared on the cover of the Forbes Billionaires issue.
In a 2009 interview, Ayre stated that following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, the organization that he led and that had been accepting customers from the United States withdrew from that market, instead licensing the brand to the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group, which then operated its own online gaming website servicing the US under the Bodog brand until December, 2011. On 14 December 2011 MMGG announced that it would no longer operate Bodog-branded websites and transitioned all customers to its new site.
The news media has also reported on Bodog's alleged skirting of Internet gambling laws in the United States and other countries. Forbes reported his "taunting analysis of the law: we run a business that can't actually be described as gambling in each country we operate in. But when you add it all together, it's Internet gambling." In a 2006 feature, The Register called Ayre "something of an outlaw."
Expansion beyond gambling
Ayre expressed his admiration for Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s use of his personal brand to promote his companies. Using him as a model, Ayre sought to build Bodog into not only one of the largest online gambling brands but also a "mainstream 21st-century digital entertainment conglomerate". As Bodog grew, Ayre launched several non-gaming properties under the Bodog brand.
In 2003, Ayre organized BodogConference.com in Las Vegas for sports handicappers, at which National Football League Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was a special guest. The conference became an annual event, attracting gambling industry executives and figures from the sports world. In 2005, Ayre launched the Bodog Music record label. This led to the Bodog Music Battle of the Bands television series on Fuse TV, in which celebrity judges including former Sex Pistols singer John Lydon traveled across America to find the country's best unsigned bands.
Ayre also launched Calvin Ayre WildCard Poker, a televised poker series on Fox Sports Net featuring pro and celebrity players facing off against online qualifiers. In March 2006, filming of party scenes for the first-season finale at Ayre's compound outside San Jose, Costa Rica, was raided by an estimated 100 police who were under the mistaken impression gambling was taking place. Ayre, who was not charged, used the media spotlight provided by the raid to promote the series and the Bodog brand. He made light of the raid, claiming the police "ate half my buffet."
Bodog branched out into sports with the launch of Bodog Fight, a mixed martial arts league incorporating a television series and live pay-per-view events. The 2007 finale in St. Petersburg, Russia, was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.
In 2018, Ayre revealed plans to build a $100 million five-star resort on Antigua's Valley Church beach. He claimed that the project would be entirely funded by profits he made from trading Bitcoin, of which he was an early investor.
Retirement and reemergence
In 2006, the online gambling industry underwent realignment as US authorities made high-profile arrests of several online gambling executives. Ayre sold Bodog's US-facing online gambling business to the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group of Kahnawake, Quebec, with Ayre retaining rights to the Bodog brand. He subsequently announced his retirement from the online gambling business.
In November 2019, Ayre opened Canada Place, a $40 million, five-story office complex in St. John’s, Antigua that will host up to 600 workers by 2020. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne called Canada Place, which features a solar panel array, "easily the most impressive building on the island, hands down."
In February 2012, Ayre and three other individuals were indicted by the US Attorney for Maryland on charges of illegal gambling and money laundering related to conduct that occurred before the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Ayre released a statement via CalvinAyre.com saying he viewed the indictment as "abuse of the US criminal justice system for the commercial gain of large US corporations." Ayre also noted that the US Attorney had seized Bodog.com, a domain that had been dormant since the Bodog brand revoked its licensing agreement with MMGG the previous year.
In July 2017, US federal prosecutors dropped the remaining charges against Ayre and Bodog after Ayre pled guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and admitted to an accessory after the fact charge related to the transmission of gambling information in violation of the federal Wire Act. The Bodog.com domain has since been returned to its owners with an accompanying payment of $100,000, after it had been seized by US federal prosecutors as part of the criminal case. Judge Catherine Blake sentenced Ayre to one year of unsupervised probation and a $500,000 fine.
In September 2017, think tank Democracy Institute published Patrick Basham's case study slamming US trade hypocrisy over online gambling dispute with Antigua-Barbuda. The report calls the US government's prosecution of Ayre highly irregular, ill-advised, and unsuccessful. The study states that Ayre's conviction ran afoul of the WTO's ruling as to America's General Agreement on Trade in Services obligations. The WTO's Appellate Body Report found America undertook a commitment to provide open and nondiscriminatory market access for recreational services, "including online gambling services."
Critically, it found that The Illegal Gambling Business Act, which made it illegal for anyone to conduct a gambling business, was explicitly in conflict with America’s commitment under subsection 10D. Hence, the Appellate Body Report concluded that America was in violation of its obligations under its GATS Schedule by maintaining and enforcing these laws.
The review claims that law enforcement officials tried to intimidate Ayre years before the indictments against him were filed, and that prosecutors "…covertly reached out to Ayre through respective third parties … including Ayre’s known business associates and industry contacts, to ‘encourage’ Ayre to make a US$350 million payment to the US Treasury."
The government of Antigua and Barbuda welcomed Ayre’s vindication as part of the failure of the US to comply with World Trade Organization ruling on Internet Gaming. The twin islands government said in a statement, "In light of the WTO ruling in Antigua and Barbuda’s favour, prosecutions by the United States of licensed gaming entities and their principals in Antigua and Barbuda, such as Calvin Ayre, are completely contrary to binding international agreements. In this context, Calvin Ayre and all other Antigua and Barbuda licensed gaming operators, who were indicted in the United States on Internet Gaming charges, are victims not culprits."
In June 2016, Andrew O'Hagan published a writer's account of the background behind Craig Wright publicly asserting himself to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin cryptocurrency, which made the news in May 2016. He revealed Ayre to be part of the business operation behind this affair, possibly even its ultimate organizer and the financial backer of the $30 million acquisition and development of Craig Wright's assets. In August 2017, Ayre acquired cryptocurrency news site Coingeek.com.
In September 2017, Ayre was a Bitcoin Cash (BCH) supporter. In July 2018, Ayre's crypto mining operations Coingeek became the world's largest Bitcoin Cash miner surpassing BTC.top. In 2020, Ayre sold his mining operations to Canadian firm TAAL Distributed Information Technologies Inc.
In November 2018, Ayre threw his support behind the new Bitcoin SV (Satoshi Vision) protocol. Ayre predicted that the BTC token, which he refers to as “the Segwit coin that’s erroneously still called ‘bitcoin,’” would "go to zero value as it has no utility, it does not do anything and [its supporters] are intentionally anti-scaling.”
Ayre and Bodog have supported charitable causes including the LA Lakers Youth Foundation and actress Shannon Elizabeth’s Animal Avengers organization. In 2005, Ayre formalized his charitable efforts under the banner of the Calvin Ayre Foundation, which focused on areas including animal welfare, the environment and education for the disadvantaged. The foundation has supported needy families, elementary schools and physical rehabilitation centers in Costa Rica, worked with groups to combat bear bile farming in Asia, and provided funding to enable individuals to pursue higher education. In 2010, the foundation matched funds raised by the online gambling industry for relief efforts tied to the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
In 2006, Ayre produced Bodog Salutes The Troops, a weekend of entertainment for US military personnel in Hawaii, footage of which appeared in a one-hour special on Spike TV. The event, which consisted of a poker tournament and a live musical concert featuring Snoop Dogg, was intended as a benefit for the Fisher House Foundation.
Following the extensive damage Typhoon Haiyan inflicted on the Philippines in November 2013, Ayre donated $200,000 to local relief efforts. The Calvin Ayre Foundation also pledged to match gaming industry members' individual donations to typhoon relief up to $1 million.
In 2016, Ayre’s foundation was operating in Antigua, where Ayre is based, and the Philippines, providing relief and rehabilitation assistance to a school and communities devastated by typhoons in Northern Samar located in central Philippines, and donating $200,000 to a fund dedicated to ensuring deserving Antiguan students get access to premier education.
In July 2018, during the "Wings of Charity" ceremony held in London by the Halo Foundation, Antigua and Barbuda's Governor General Sir Rodney Williams presented Ayre with the foundation's special award for his philanthropic efforts in support of the vulnerable and underprivileged in Antigua and Barbuda.
On November 14, 2019, Antigua and Barbuda Governor General His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams presented Ayre with the Faithful and Meritorious Service Cross award in recognition of Ayre’s philanthropic efforts and contributions to the country’s national development.
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