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U.S. Law Enforcement Seeking Canadian Gaming Mogul

It sounds like the script for a Hollywood thriller — a handsome, young entrepreneur becomes a celebrity billionaire after founding an online gaming empire, only to end up being pursued by law enforcement.

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That’s no film in production but rather the real life tale of Calvin Ayre, one of the most successful figures in Canadian gaming history. Ayre founded Bodog.com, at one time one of the world’s largest online casino and sports betting brands. A savvy media operator, Ayre was profiled in magazines such as People and Forbes and continues to be an influential player in the world of online gaming.

U.S law enforcement officials are seeking to extradite Ayre after issuing an indictment accusing Bodog of transferring more than $100 million in offshore accounts to bettors in the United States, along with paying millions in advertising fees to lure U.S. bettors. Ayre has strongly contested these charges.

The United States government began cracking down on online poker and other games after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The law has subsequently come under widespread criticism from some observers, who feel it unfairly restricts the activities of American gamers and costs millions in lost taxes and revenue. Critics also blast the law for being ineffectual, as gamers can still easily use platforms not based in the United States.

Ayre has strenuously protested his innocence, calling the case against him “an abuse of the U.S. criminal justice system.” Ayre has also pointed out that online gaming is legal under international law.

With online gaming broadly legal in much of the world and attitudes changing in the United States, it seems likely the environment in which any legal action against Ayre would occur could be markedly friendlier toward legal gaming.

Given the recent explosion in monetized social gaming — and predictions that U.S. gaming laws will be repealed in the next five years — the U.S. government’s actions against Ayre seem short sighted and out of step with prevailing cultural attitudes.