The Curious Case of the Bodog Philippines Raid
Yesterday’s raid on a Bodog customer-service center in the Philippines was the latest incident in a tawdry little string of events that have plagued the online site’s Asia front in recent weeks. Trying to parse the truth from the propaganda, however, remains difficult.
The gist of what appears to be happening with the Bodog888 home reads straight out of a cheap third-world-politics stereotype, with graft, bribery, embezzlement and corruption charges all being thrown about. Who’s who and what’s what isn’t quite clear, as none of the sources who have brought forward the facts to date can really be trusted to tell the whole story, so it’s up to onlookers to parse what’s going on. That can be difficult, owing both to the filter of distance and the need to pick this tale up in the middle. It’s best to start with a bit of history.
In recent years, Bodog’s globalization efforts have led the company and its founder, Calvin Ayre, to launch a strong marketing front in Asia. Bodog launched its Bodog888 brand — “888” being the Asian “lucky number” equivalent of the western world’s “777” — and began building an online presence there.
As to the whys and wherefores of the expansion and globalization, the reasons given by Bodog at the time may or may not be the whole story; the new Asia-directed effort was likely not only a shot at opening up a new market, but part of Bodog’s and Ayre’s continuing effort to globalize the company’s operations, keeping facilities and assets in several different jurisdictions, to minimize the impact of a country such as the US (or Canada, Ayre’s native land) in clamping down on Bodog’s business.
The launching of Bodog888 included a move for former Bodog Europe CEO Patrik Selin, among others, and Selin figures in this latest story as well. (That’s an old shot of him, upper right.) Selin, from Sweden, was a tournament-circuit regular before joining the Bodog operation full time, and still squeezed in the occasional appearance at the tables.
Exactly how Bodog went about establishing its offices in Manila probably involves a good bit of behind-the-scenes bribery, along with a promise not to offer gambling services, live or online, to anyone in the Philippines. Such grease is unfortunately commonplace, particularly in southeast Asia.
Yet corruption breeds corruption, and somewhere in there, for Bodog, it appears to have all gone wrong. In the past few weeks, Bodog mouthpiece CalvinAyre.com has published a whole series of salacious stories about how Bodog888 Managing Director Robert Gustafsson, Selin, and over a dozen other employees have been accused of being part of a large-scale embezzlement operation against the Bodog operation itself.
And from there, the weirdness started. Rather than serving up the facts in a straightforward manner, Bodog mouthpiece CalvinAyre.com went for the cheap dirt in a series of one-sided, character-assassinating pieces. Included were references to Gustafsson as the head of the “wannabe Swedish mafia” and financial employee “superstar loony tune, Sylvia ‘Scissorhands’ De Guzman.”
For a hilarious example of a lot of mudslinging accompanied by not too much actual dissemination of facts, check out this CA story from a couple of weeks ago — and don’t forget to check out the photo captions, as in the one shown at right.
So how is any serious news outlet supposed to work with that? CalvinAyre.com can be a good source on many news stories, but the closer the topic gets to Bodog or Calvin Ayre themselves, the more the site goes into propaganda mode and renders itself nigh on useless, something along the order of the old Russian Pravda blended with “The Man Show.”
And then came yesterday’s raid of the Bodog offices in Manila, which just had to be connected to whatever mess is going on. The raid seemingly disrupted Bodog’s customer services for several of the company’s operations, including some of that for the US-facing Bodog brand, Bovada. That doesn’t mean that this has anything to do with the safety of customer funds; to the best of this writer’s shop, the Bodog CS center in Manila is set up similar to those many companies establish in Costa Rica, India and elsewhere, simply taking advantage of a bilingual (including English-speaking) population to get CS functions done at a reduced labor cost.
A segue over to a piece from yesterday at Gambling911, the National Enquirer of the online-poker world, which picked up on the topic and claimed that the raid was due to claims made against the company that Bodog was offering local gambling in the form of a numbers racket. The accusation is probably not true, and would be intensely stupid if it was. That G911 story, which is just weird enough to have some truth to it, continued with claims that the raid was orchestrated with the help of a reputed regional Philippines governor, Chavit Singson, who may have been connected with the people alleged to be part of the criminal conspiracy within the Bodog Asia enterprise.
Then again, it is G911, which, in this writer’s clearly declared opinion will print damn near anything as long it comes attached to a check. [G911 occasionally gets stories correct, but more often does so in the sportsbetting world than with poker (though Bodog is primarily a sportsbetting company), and consumers — again, in this writer’s opinion — simply cannot trust G911 to provide the unvarnished truth. End disclaimer.]
It all leaves a lot of questions, many of which are still unanswered. But that there are indictments, which start with the simple misappropriation (“carnapping”) of a motorcycle by a former Bodog employee to what might possible have been a scheme to transfer a Bodog property worth more than $4 million int the hands of Gustafsson and others, along with plenty of internal graft as well.
Nearly two dozen Bodog Asia employees have been charged in connection with various schemes directed at Bodog and its assets, lef by Gustafsson, who was apparently terminated from his role with the company back in April. Sorting through whatever happened is still ongoing, as even the CalvinAyre.com pieces admit, yet some of the details are already eye-twisting.
The indictment for the minor theft of the motorcycle, for example, segues into the attempted transfer of the property. Here’s a sample quote from one of the Philippine indictments, which appears to have been filed based on a complaint from a financial services company (possibly E*Trade, or a branch business office of Bodog888 itself) which became aware of the possible embezzlement. This excerpt provides an example of how weird and deep this story may become:
Apparently, the bank employee actually did pretend to cooperate, but filled out the transfer in such a way as to ensure that it would get bounced as soon as it was checked over by one of the bank’s officials.
So what’s next? This tale is so bizarre that almost anything is possible, and as soon as we’re able to parse some of the details, we’ll offer a follow-up report.