Feds Continue Crackdown On Poker… By Seizing The Wrong Bodog Domain

from the keystone-kops dept

The feds domain name seizure powers seem simple enough (if of extremely questionable legality, seeing as domains involve speech which requires a higher standard to seize), so it really amazes me how badly they seem to regularly screw up in using them. The latest is the seizure of Bodog.com as well as the indictment of Bodog boss Calvin Ayre. While there’s been lots of attention paid to the seizures of sites having to do with copyright and trademark infringement, the same feds (ICE and the DOJ) have also been using the same powers gleefully to stop you from playing poker online. You may recall that they seized PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker last April, followed up by 10 more domain seizures in May (which was especially bizarre, since the key thing that’s illegal is processing payments, but in that case, the federal government set up its own fake payment processor for those sites…).

Bodog, however, has been considered the “big dog” of online poker for quite some time, raising some questions as to why it wasn’t included in last years’ busts. Of course, in typical fashion, the feds seem to have targeted the wrong domain. Bodog gambling sites moved off of Bodog.com ages ago — first due to a patent dispute, and later to avoid having the sites on US controlled domains. For quite some time the company has mainly relied on bodog.eu, and more recently has been offering a different domain called Bovada.lv for US-based players.

As for Bodog.com? It had become the face of the “Bodog Brand” and was used for licensing the Bodog name, but wasn’t itself a gambling site in ages. The affidavit for seizure (pdf and embedded below) claims that federal agents set up accounts and gambled on Bodog.com, but I really wonder if they didn’t miss the fact that they were redirected to another site. Checking the internet archive, it certainly looks like Bodog.com was pretty much out of commission long before the feds claimed to have set up and used accounts there. Either way, the seizure seems unlikely to do much to stop gambling on Bodog sites, considering that the actual gambling was happening on sites, other than Bodog.com, which likely are still perfectly operational.

As for the actual indictment (pdf and embedded below) against the individuals, it’s more or less what you’d expect. They focus a lot how Bodog moved money around, but much of that was only necessary because of the (relatively recent) decision by some politicians in the US to sneak an anti-online gambling bill into a bill about protecting our ports and harbors. Ever since then there’s been a growing effort in Congress to actually make online gambling legal again — in part because the big casinos who mostly supported the original ban have now changed their minds and want in on the action. In other words, while it is likely that Ayers and his team did violate the law, there are a lot of questions about the law itself, and there’s a half decent chance that what he was doing will be perfectly legal before too long.

Kinda makes you wonder why the feds are spending their time and taxpayer-funded resources on such a thing, doesn’t it?

As for Ayers, he sounds pretty defiant, suggesting that this is really just the feds acting in the best interests of large casinos who don’t like the competition:

I see this as abuse of the US criminal justice system for the commercial gain of large US corporations. It is clear that the online gaming industry is legal under international law and in the case of these documents is it also clear that the rule of law was not allowed to slow down a rush to try to win the war of public opinion.

These documents were filed with Forbes magazine before they were filed anywhere else and were drafted with the consumption of the media as a primary objective. We will all look at this and discuss the future with our advisors, but it will not stop my many business interests globally that are unrelated to anything in the US….

The whole thing seems like a big waste of time by some federal officials who like big headlines, but don’t seem particularly focused on stopping crimes that actually cause real harm.

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Companies: bodog

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Comments on “Feds Continue Crackdown On Poker… By Seizing The Wrong Bodog Domain”

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60 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

No, trying to hide your intent to break US law by moving part of your business offshore doesn’t insulate you from liablity.

Ask the other poker places, that no longer allow US players to access their paying sites. It’s the way that it is done. If they could go to bodog.com and click a “play poker for money” style link that goes to a site owned by the same people, then it’s just a dodge.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Worthy of seizure? Putting up a link on their page seems roughly as “illegal” as Mike telling us the URLs in this story.

For example, if American Eagle Outfitters were an evil gambling site, and americaneagle.com gave you a “Were you looking for…” link to their website, should the web development company be subject to having its domain seized?

Anonymous Coward says:

The only reason online gambling is illegal is the Jack Abramoff scandal. Once the gig was up and Jack Abramoff exposed as a corrupt bastard everything Jack Abramoff had touched suddenly became poisonous. One of those things was support for online gambling, politicians voted it through just to show they weren’t in Jack Abramoff’s pocket, despite taking lots of illegal bribes and campaign contributions from him.

Stupid logic isn’t it. Under the same logic if a woman who was fierce supporter of women’s rights did what Jack Abramoff did then politicians would vote to repeal the right of women to vote, just to show they weren’t corrupted/bribed by her despite all the money she gave them.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re:

It is not “hiding intent” to move your operations from somewhere where they are illegal to somewhere where they are legal. If Bodog exists in a place they’re legally allowed to, then they are not “hiding intent”, they are operating legally.

Ask the other poker places, that no longer allow US players to access their paying sites. It’s the way that it is done.

So what? Just because other poker places cave in doesn’t mean that’s the right & proper thing to do. Why should they block US players unless there is a law where they are operating requiring them to do so?

To argue that they should is to argue that US law should be imposed globally.

I am truly amazed at the time, effort, and money that we through at prosecuting these sites when it could be going to something that actually matters. Even worse, we are engaging in abusive practices to do so. It’s worse than a waste.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Nameotomy

It’s called “The thing that only hackers and lawbreakers ever look at or type things into–you rebel, er, pirate scum. Stick to the vetted, censored, government approved websites or face indeterminate, er, indefinite detention under charges as a belligerent home-grown lone-wolf terrorist.”
–Signed, CIA/NSA/TSA/FBI/(a too many other TLA’s to mention)

GMacGuffin says:

Nameotomy

That has been a concern. Luckily, Firefox has a for-the-masses option to hide that pesky white bar thingy, so (for hypothetical example) my wife won’t accidentally type “khols” instead of “kohls” and land on a phishing site and give them her cell and I have to go and shut down her texting account so she isn’t inundated with .20 MMS every hour. (Nice brand-management, Kohls – even after an email alerting you it’s still up.)

Too bad Chrome doesn’t have that hide-the-white-bar-thingy feature. Guess I’ll prep for jail … even jail is safer than IE.

Benjo (profile) says:

If you're going to make online gambling illegal

Then how are penny auctions not getting shutdown? At least people playing online poker know more or less what their odds are (maybe), or more importantly they know that they ARE gambling. Penny auctions try to pass themselves off as legitimate auction sites but its more of a scam/gamble than anything else, with much poorer odds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

“Yes, why are the Feds spending their time prosecuting lawbreakers? It’s so puzzling.”

Depends on what the people, the taxpayers, think of the laws. If they don’t like the laws then, indeed, it is a waste of taxpayer money.

“You’ve really jumped the shark these past few months, Masnick.”

No, it’s just that you were born retarded.

and where is your blog that everyone visits for insightful analysis? Oh, that’s right, no one cares.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Actually, wait a minute.

If I have a buddy sitting at a casino table in Vegas with a bag full of my money, and he and I are on the phone, can I gamble via proxy? I tell him how much to bet, he tells me what he sees, I tell him to hit, stay, double down, etc…(assuming blackjack). Ignore whether or not a casino would allow this, just is it legal?

If it isn’t legal then the whole “does the gambling occur where it is illegal” argument is a lot harder and trickier to defend/understand than you want to make it out to be. If it is legal then why is gambling through the same phone line (assuming dialup) using a series of 1s and 0s illegal?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

“So what? Just because other poker places cave in doesn’t mean that’s the right & proper thing to do. Why should they block US players unless there is a law where they are operating requiring them to do so?”

Because when they deal with a US player, they are (remarkably) operating in part in the US, offering services in the US, and are as a result SUBJECT TO US LAW.

I am truly amazed that you can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Someantimalwareguy (profile) says:

Re:

LOL – they are not serving an American customer in the US, they are servicing an American citizen that has visited their site which is hosted in another country. So are you saying that should an American go overseas to say, Amsterdam and partake of a little cannabis, that the US should then be able to go there, close down the coffee shop, and seize the property?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re:

Because when they deal with a US player, they are (remarkably) operating in part in the US, offering services in the US, and are as a result SUBJECT TO US LAW.

No, they are not. They are not operating in any part in the US, and they are not subject to US law. Not according to US law, anyway.

Offering services to US citizens? Sure! But that is not in violation of the law where they are, and since they aren’t in the US themselves, US law does not apply to them.

Willton says:

Re:

Offering services to US citizens? Sure! But that is not in violation of the law where they are, and since they aren’t in the US themselves, US law does not apply to them.

Wrong: U.S. law certainly does apply to them. Why? Because they are transacting with US citizens while the US citizens are residing in the US. Just like any online retailer based in a different country, if the online retailer is advertising to customers in the US and selling products to persons located in the US, it is enjoying the benefits and protections of US law (i.e., transacting in denominations of U.S. currency, which are being transferred to the retailer through channels located in and regulated by the United States), and is therefore subject to US jurisdiction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s kind of hard to enforce extraterritorial jurisdiction without cooperation with both governments. The very concept of ‘reach out and prosecute somebody’ for offenses that aren’t a crime in both states (read: countries) was considered pretty ridiculous until the Internet went and made threatening local government’s power trivial. Now they’re working to do stuff like libel tourism but with with worldwide prosecution instead of just lawsuits.

Traditionally, you had a few choices. Either send an army to enforce your court’s decisions, or hope the country would ‘hand `em over’. Domain names are kind of wonky though, anyways. They are essentially just phone numbers or addresses but for the Internet. It only makes sense that you’d go after the phone companies or the post office with interception demands, so now they’re applying that logic to domain registrations. Many countries even go to the public’s ISP’s and demand DNS/IP blocking (which is stupid and easy for customers to get but… they have you by the you-know-whats as an ISP).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re:

This is simply factually incorrect. US law does not apply to people who are not in US-controlled territories. It doesn’t matter who they’re doing business with or advertising to or anything.

That’s why SOPA & PIPA had to go through such legal gymnastics to try and make US law affect people outside the US. It has no direct authority over them regardless of what they do. Instead, the bills were trying to reach them by imposing rules on the entities they deal with who are, in fact, in the US: payment service providers, ISPs, etc.

Joe says:

Re: Re:

Nothing prevents this even for .com and .org, from a technical point of view. In fact, you can even do it for specific computers in your own home. Remember New.Net? Or how about the HOSTS file? Plenty of organizations use their own DNS server to filter/cache domain lookups. Just ask your corporate or college IT guy about it.

There already are recognized national domains for Asian countries, if that’s what you meant instead.

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