When it comes to the iGaming industry there’s few people that can talk with as much authority as Calvin Ayre. With his plethora of knowledge on industry matters, stories of parties with celebrities from Paris Hilton to Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin it’s a surprise that more sites don’t follow the lead of Gaming Intelligence and have a chat with the man himself.
GI have broken with this and sent Steve Hoare to report on the former leader of the “Bodog empire” and now owner of the Bodog Brand. What follows is a transcript of the article in its entirety…
Calvin Ayre does not have as active a role in the Bodog empire as he once did but he is still keeping a close eye on his creation. Steve Hoare reports.
Despite his occasional lapses into self-parody Calvin Ayre is as perceptive and entertaining a raconteur as you are likely to find in the online gaming business.
It almost takes you by surprise when the 49-year-old businessman lets loose his juvenile attempts at humour, which – almost without exception – centre on the attractions of the opposite sex.
But this is Calvin Ayre. He is wearing cowboy boots and shirt. The tagline on his website reads “Gamblin’, Drinkin’ & Carryin’ On”. It really shouldn’t take you by surprise but such is his lucidity on industry matters, it does.
For those of you who may be new to this industry, Calvin Ayre is the billionaire founder of Bodog. He has an extraordinary gift for publicity and is generally known as a bit of a playboy. And the playboy is on good form.
The centre of the universe
Ayre is in London to check on his new house. He is moving to London because the UK city is “the centre of the online gaming universe” and is furnishing the five floors of his new residence – Bodog House in Mayfair, one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. Ayre says it will be the Bodog equivalent of the Playboy Mansion.
But it’s not just London’s property market that is getting a financial boost. The company he founded is also in an expansive mood. As first revealed in the Q3 edition of GIQ, Bodog is in the process of recruiting over 100 people.
America’s top model
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves and a pause is needed for explanation because, as most of you know, Ayre sold Bodog following the passing of UIGEA in 2006. Well, he kind of sold Bodog.
He sold the operations to Morris Mohawk Gaming Group (MMGG) and kept the rights to the Bodog brand. He went on to license the brand to Bodog Europe, which runs the UK website, and Haydock Entertainment, which runs the
Asian-facing Bodog88.com out of Manila.
“It started out for legal reasons but personally I think it’s the most powerful business model out there,” states Ayre.
The model allows Kahnawake-based MMGG to target US customers while Ayre presumably reaps the financial benefits through the terms of the licensing deal. When asked directly if this is the case, Ayre cracks a big grin before stating that those terms are confidential.
There is no denial and the flourish with which the statement is delivered would seem to suggest this is so. Ayre is proud of the model and typically bullish about the benefits of being a private company. He says he is “mystified” why anyone would go public.
“Whenever you make a strategic error it’s magnified, but the biggest strategic error was going public.”
“You want to be this cool brand to folks on Main Street but to Wall Street, you want to sell this image of being, a mature adult company dressed in pinstripes. The two things are not compatible. We just sell one thing – we’re fun.”
Alice, Frank and Uncle Sam
US-facing operators, such as Bodog but particularly PokerStars and Full Tilt, have become the bogeymen for the large European listed companies, which pulled out following UIGEA and settled with the authorities.
“That whole settlement thing,” starts Ayre, “It’s Alice in Wonderland. They’re not charged with anything so what are they settling? I just don’t get it.”
Soon those operators will get a chance to return to the US, believes Ayre, although it’s not going to happen overnight. It will be poker and casino only, and it will happen on a state-by-state basis.
“It’s gonna look like Frankenstein’s baby,” he says. “Some states will do it immediately, some will wait and they’ll never ever do it in Utah.”
And how will Bodog, Stars and Tilt operate in a regulated environment?
“If the US can not shut them down now, how will they ever shut them down?” he asks.
You can’t legalise online gambling and hand out licences to one set of operators and then demonise another set, which are basically offering the same product, he surmises.
A brand new brand
But all that’s for the future. It’s Bodog Europe that is currently receiving a huge injection of cash (presumably from Ayre). Ayre bought the Slots.com domain name while sitting at a bar in London’s Soho district. It’s his first attempt to woo a non-Bodog crowd.
The official target audience for Slots is “gender-neutral”, which is perhaps the only politically correct phrase that Ayre has uttered in his life. The pink branding suggests that really means girls but that branding may change after the site is fully operational.
Given the new demographic, Ayre is unlikely to repeat his Bodog role of brand ambassador although he admits that he would like to get involved in pushing the brand once it is more established.
Ayre has licensed the Slots brand to Bodog Europe. Lee Richardson is slated to run Slots in the UK. He will be one of the most senior figures in a hiring spree that hopes to bring 100 new staff into the company’s offices in London and Barcelona.
The future according to Calvin
Ayre is very excited about Slots, the poker network and Bodog88. He is keen to target Latin America too but that falls slightly lower on the list of priorities.
“Asia is such a big gambling market that it dwarfs the rest of the planet,” he says. “That’s why I made sure Bodog was there.”
It is one of the three main trends that he highlights. Unlike 99 per cent of industry folk, he fails to mention consolidation – the current buzzword following the PartyGaming-bwin merger.
“You can’t merge yourself into a successful business,” he says. “I know [Party co-founder] Ruth [Parasol] and I respect her but the company has lost its soul.”
In addition to Asia, the most pressing industry matters according to the Bodog founder, are the balkanisation of the internet and the convergence between land-based casinos and online gambling.
“Both are going to be entering each other’s space in some way even if its tie-ups between the two. If you don’t have a strategy for those three things then you are nowhere,” he concludes.
And that is the future of the online gambling world according to one of its founding figures. But what of Ayre? He’s approaching his 50th birthday next May. Where would he like to be in 10 years time?
“I hope I’m still wakeboarding. I hope to still be analysing the industry. And I hope I can still ……..”