Law: Biting back

Bodog's owner is having fun while being sued.

Lawsuits can frighten, embarrass and ruin. But for Canadian-born Calvin Ayre, they can be marketing opportunities. The 46-year-old founder of Bodog Entertainment Group, which has expanded from online gaming into music and televised fighting, is in the middle of a patent dispute that has so far seen Nevada and Washington courts strip Bodog of its domain names, order it to pay millions in fines, and demand that Antigua-based Ayre testify in the United States next month about his company’s assets.

Ayre’s response? Ridicule the plaintiff, 1st Technology LLC, on his blog. “We are having fun with this and look forward to seeing how this unfolds,” Ayre wrote in an e-mail to Canadian Business.

The dispute started last year, when Las Vegas–based 1st Technology filed suit against Bodog. The suit alleges Bodog’s gaming software uses a method of transmitting data over a network that was patented in 1996 by 1st Technology’s Scott Lewis, a California resident with a PhD from Oxford University.

Bodog didn’t respond to the suit. In June, a default judgment was entered and Bodog was ordered to pay US$48.9 million. It never did. And so in late August, a court ordered that all of Bodog’s domain names be transferred to 1st Technology as payment.

In what Ayre says must have been a “big testosterone gratifying move on their part,” 1st Technology shut down all of Bodog’s websites on Aug. 27. By then, Bodog took notice. In a matter of hours, the company resurrected all of its properties under new URLs and later filed a response in court urging the suit to be dismissed. Bodog claims it had never been properly served and had not been aware of the lawsuit. Bodog recently announced a licensing agreement with Morris Mohawk Gaming Group, located on the Kahnawake reserve in Quebec, to assume responsibility for the Bodog gaming domains and trademark in North America. Ayre says the move means Bodog no longer runs any part of its gaming business in the United States, keeping it outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law.

Ayre has been hurling insults at Lewis on his blog since Bodog lost its domains. He also devised a bizarre Lewis look-alike and dance contest, and encouraged Bodog fans to submit videos of themselves for the chance to win $1,000. “I don’t believe the obvious comedy on my blog is libelous, but to be honest I don’t really care if it is,” Ayre says. The macho posturing plays into the bad boy image he has cultivated for himself and Bodog. Indeed, Ayre says he has more marketing efforts planned around the lawsuit.

All of the fan support in the world won’t help Bodog if it ends up in court, however. The U.S. has cracked down on online gambling, leading to the arrests of BetonSports founder Gary Kaplan in March and ex-CEO David Carruthers in 2006. Given that environment, it’s understandable why Ayre is fighting the order to appear in the U.S. His lawyers argue that since Ayre is not a U.S. citizen, he can’t be made to testify. Meanwhile, Ayre is left with plenty of time to hone his acerbic diatribes. “I am going to continue to have my fun at their expense,” he says, “and promote Bodog while I’m at it.”