Calvin Ayre: Founder of Bodog

Calvin Ayre

When it comes to establishing a brand and making a fortune from licensing, there are three names that stand out above all others:

  1. Richard Branson
  2. Donald Trump
  3. Calvin Ayre

The first, Richard Branson, has attached his Virgin brand to everything from airlines to music labels.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has promoted both steaks and casinos under his own name, and this level of recognition even helped propel him into the White House.

The third name might not be as well-known, but Calvin Ayre and his Bodog brand remain a vital part of the online gambling world.

On this page, we’ll present an in-depth look at the life of Calvin Ayre. From his humble beginnings to his current status as a bad boy billionaire wanted by the U.S. government, every possible facet of his life should be available. Whether you’re a longtime fan of his product or just a curious passerby, we suspect you’ll find something to pique your interest.

The Early Life of Calvin Ayre

Calvin Ayre was born in 1961 and raised on a farm near Lloydminster, which is a small city straddling the provincial Canadian borders between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Calvin’s father was a farmer who raised pigs and grew wheat, and the entrepreneur would later refer to the elder Ayre as his “number one hero.”

While Calvin was still young, his father made every effort to teach the importance of hard work. Calvin would be provided with baby pigs to raise and care for, and he was allowed to keep the profits when the animals were eventually sold on the market.

As Calvin grew into a teen, the Ayre family moved to Salmon Arm, British Columbia, and his father began installing water systems for a living. The future Bodog owner eventually graduated from high school, although tough economic times made it impossible for his family to afford to send him to college.

Undaunted by this challenge, Calvin summoned forth the entrepreneurial spirit that would eventually make him one of the wealthiest men on the planet. Renting a truck, he loaded up fruit from British Columbia orchards and hauled it north into Saskatchewan. This allowed him to pay his way through college, and he earned a Bachelor of Science in General Sciences from the University of Waterloo in 1984. Five years later, he added an MBA in Management Finance from City University of Seattle.

With his college education complete, Ayre accepted a position with the heart valve manufacturer Bicer Medical Systems in 1990. The company was facing financial difficulties, and Ayre was determined to do whatever it took to keep them afloat. Unfortunately for him, he got caught.

He was accused of moving company shares around without filing the proper paperwork, and he also sold 300,000 shares without releasing a prospectus. He was never brought up on criminal charges, but in 1996 he was fined $10,000 and prohibited from running a listed company on the Vancouver Stock Exchange for two decades.

Years later, he would say the following about the incident:

  • “I knew I wasn’t following all the rules. But I also knew I had to do it to keep the budget alive.” (Forbes)
  • “I clearly made some mistakes, but it was not a criminal issue and nobody got hurt from anything I did.” (Vancouver Sun)

Now looking for a new means of income, Ayre moved to Vancouver in the early ‘90s and started a number of companies that revolved around the growing phenomenon known as the Internet. During this period, he also taught himself network design by borrowing training manuals printed by technology conglomerate Cisco Systems.

The Origin of Bodog

In 1992, Ayre read a newspaper article about Ronald Sacco, an American bookie who was operating out of the Dominican Republic and accepting wagers from U.S. customers over the phone. Since the business was legal in the nation where he was operating, Sacco had managed to avoid being charged with crimes in the nation of his birth (although his luck would eventually run out).

According to Ayre, he heard a “loud bang in my head, and the whole universe came together.” He realized in that moment that a marriage between sportsbetting and the Internet was a potentially lucrative one, and those who were among the first to act would be reaping the benefits for decades to come.

With a combination of his computer skills and $10,000, Ayre started designing software for offshore gaming operations. During a 1996 business trip to Costa Rica, however, he realized that the real money was in running his own gaming site.

Ayre decided to create an online sportsbook, and he wrote the computer code himself. This latter fact was especially important, as it allowed him to avoid expensive licensing fees and gave him the flexibility to modify the design and function much faster than competing sites.

Now all he needed was a catchy name and a strong marketing campaign. For the first, he took to an Internet domain registration site and started searching for available options. He wanted something with six letters or less that was easy to spell and remember. It also needed to be unique and have a certain amount of flair. And, thus, Bodog was born.

Ever the entrepreneur, Ayre had an additional reason for choosing a name like Bodog instead of something more direct like PokerStars or PartyPoker. In the words of the man himself, “Those names are great, but they aren’t very portable if you want to expand into other entertainment industries.”

For the marketing campaign, Ayre decided to sell the dream of big wins and a lavish lifestyle. Perhaps it was arrogance, but he couldn’t think of a better person to represent those qualities than himself.

This decision resulted in Ayre’s face becoming synonymous with the Bodog brand, and he was often shown dressed in stylish clothing and surrounded by sports cars and women. In a later interview on the subject, he would remark that “The lifestyle I sell is about 80% the reality of what I live.”

The decision was a clever one, and it immediately set Bodog apart from the competition. For starters, anyone could look at the site and see the face of the man who owned the company. Secondly, what gambler hasn’t dreamed of being wealthy and living a jet-setting lifestyle?

In the beginning, Bodog only accepted wagers on sporting events, and their limit on bets was $5,000. According to Ayre, “We were small back then. I can remember sitting down here and watching the first bet come in for $15.”

The Boom Years of Bodog

Within a few years, Bodog was well on its way to being a major power in the world of sports gambling. Ayre was relentless in his promotional efforts, plastering his face and the company name over every possible surface, regardless of whether it was real or virtual.

His persistence paid off, allowing Bodog to enter a boom phase from 2000 to 2006. As business grew, Ayre stepped up his efforts, and the following are some of the more notable events or modifications that occurred during this period.

  • Bodog added poker and online casino games, making it a one-stop destination for gamblers.
  • Ayre held the first Bodog.com Poker and Sports Marketing Conference in Las Vegas in 2003. This platform for gambling executives and sports handicappers allowed them to exchange ideas and hone their craft, and it would go on to become an annual event.
  • An MMA organization was started, which was known as Bodog Fights. While it’s no longer around, their events drew everyone from actor Jean-Claude Van Damme to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
  • In late 2005, Calvin Ayre WildCard Poker debuted on Fox Sports Net. The show featured both professional and celebrity players facing off.
  • Bodog sponsored a few Lingerie Bowl events, which served as Super Bowl halftime counterprogramming and featured scantily-clad women playing football.
  • Ayre also started a recording label known as Bodog Music. While now defunct, it featured artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan and DMX during its run.
  • A TV show known as Bodog Music Battle of the Bands was launched on Fuse TV. This was a talent competition for unsigned bands, with celebrity judges featuring individuals such as former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten).

By 2005, Bodog was responsible for processing over one-million wagers per day. That same year, their estimated revue was $210 million. Ayre’s own personal brand exploded, with the now-billionaire appearing on the cover of Forbes, being named one of the most eligible bachelors on the planet, and getting featured on TV programs such as Nightline and MTV Cribs.

Ayre’s public image bordered on cartoonish during this period, with most photos featuring the entrepreneur surrounded by a host of beautiful models. He cruised around in an oversized black Hummer, and he was often accompanied by a supposed sniper-turned-bodyguard.

He even engaged in a public feud with a man named Scott Lewis. The individual had sued him for claims of patent violations, and Ayre responded by challenging him to a 3-round MMA fight. On the line: $1 million and the rights to the Bodog name. The fight, however, never took place, much to the disappointment of Internet onlookers.

Darker Days

As the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.”

In 2006, the United States passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in an effort to combat offshore gambling. Several online casino executives were rounded up by U.S. authorities, and this prompted Ayre to sell the U.S.-serving part of his business to the Quebec-based Morris Mohawk Gaming Group (which used the Bodog name until 2011). Ayre, meanwhile, retained full rights to license and market the company name as he saw fit. A short while later, he offered the following quote to the public:

“You’ve likely heard the rumblings and rumors…and for once…it’s true. I’m packing it in! Well, who am I kidding? I was really more of a brand ambassador for Bodog the past while anyway – but it was fun while it lasted.”

Ayre adopted a lower profile for a couple of years. Then, in 2009, he re-emerged, launching the CalvinAyre.com blog and licensing the Bodog name for everything from Italian coffee to Asian gambling sites.

In 2012, Ayre was indicted by the US Attorney from Maryland on charges of money laundering and illegal gambling, and he was placed on a wanted list alongside drug kingpins and sex offenders. Ayre referred to it as an “abuse of the U.S. criminal justice system,” but he continued to avoid the U.S., spending the majority of his time in his adopted home of Antigua.

A Change of Heart and a Change of Plan

2017 was a big year for the future and career of Calvin Ayre. First, the charges against him in the United States were dropped. He is no longer wanted in that country, and after forfeiting over $60 million during the seizure of assets, he also has no more fines to pay.

It is hard to say when he will make a return to the U.S., but you can rest assured that it will be news when he does.

The other important piece of news came out of Antigua when on August 8, 2017, the government announced that Ayre would be named a Special Economic Envoy of Antigua and Barbuda.

In the press release, the country’s Director-General of Communications was quoted as saying “Mr. Ayre will advise the Government on the effective implementation of new technological developments in cryptocurrency and Bitcoin which have been adopted by leading companies in the United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom.”

To those of us in the gambling world, this is not much of a surprise that he is now involved in cryptocurrency; you can trace this back to 2016 when he was linked to Craig Wright, a man who claimed to be the mysterious and legendary creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto.

Ayre had been working closely in the space to use cryptocurrency as a way to fund online gambling sites, and now with his new found freedom, he can spend more of his time working to ensure that Antigua is still a viable option for companies looking to set up their offices and businesses.

Calvin Ayre – Philanthropist

By now, you should’ve realized that Calvin Ayre has a big bank account. What you might not know, however, is that the man’s heart is almost as big. Ayre has a soft spot for those in need, and this applies to both human beings and animals. With this in mind, he’s been involved in a number of charitable endeavors over the years, with the most noteworthy being the formation of the Calvin Ayre Foundation.

The Calvin Ayre Foundation operates in eight countries across the globe, and it’s been doing so since 2005. It’s based in Antigua, which also happens to be the same place that Ayre calls home.

On the charity’s website, their objectives are broken up into “pillars of giving.” By looking at each of these, we should come away with a much better idea of what the organization and its founder are all about.

Education

After spending time in Costa Rica, Ayre realized the severe educational disadvantage that plagued children throughout the globe. He resolved to fight these elements, with special attention being paid to literacy rates and the overall quality of learning facilities.

His efforts began by funding the Rafael Angel Calderon School, which in turn led to a successful Adopt-A-School program that’s been implemented in both Costa Rica and Antigua. In either nation, the goal of the program is to promote safety, physical health, regular infrastructure updates, and a thirst for educational advancement.

Child Welfare

Improving the lives of children is another major goal of the foundation, and numerous programs have been funded or initiated over the years to this end. Some of these efforts have included the following:

  • Raising $150,000 for the L.A. Lakers Youth Foundation and Sportsfest in the Philippines.
  • Helped make sure that the young residents of the Lomonosovsky Dom Rebenka facility in Russia would receive continued care. The center housed over 100 children who were born with serious neurological conditions and abandoned by parents, and its foundation was structurally unsound.
  • At the PANARE Adult Handicap Hospital and Children’s School in Santa Ana, Costa Rica, the physiotherapy pool was falling apart. Thanks to the efforts of the foundation, the pool was restored for the benefit of the patients.

Social Development

In addition to helping the youth of various nations, the foundation is concerned with the social development as it relates to people of all ages. To this end, a number of charitable endeavors have been undertaken, including the following:

  • Launched the Adopt-A-Village and Adopt-A-Family programs.
  • In order to increase the level of home ownership in Antigua, $2 million was pledged to the country’s 500 Homes in 500 Days program.

Emergency Response

Not all charitable can be planned, especially when they concern natural disasters. The Calvin Ayre Foundation has made relief efforts a priority, and some of their more notable contributions include the following:

  • Following the events of Hurricane Haiyan, the foundation ensured that food, materials, and medical aid were delivered to the ravaged village of Sitio San Vicente. Calvin Ayre donated $200,000 of his own money to local relief efforts, and his foundation vowed to match any contributions from the gaming community up to $1,000,000.
  • Following a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the foundation sent out a call for help to members of the gaming community. As with Hurricane Haiyan, it was understood that the foundation would match all contributions up to $1 million.
  • After a house fire struck a Costa Rican family, killing two and leaving them homeless, the foundation stepped in to provide them with financial assistance.

Animal Welfare

Calvin Ayre must be an animal lover, as his foundation has made it a priority to help various types of wild and domesticated animals. To date, they have helped champion two major causes.

  • After the events of Hurricane Katrina, there were thousands of animals in New Orleans that were abandoned or orphaned. Actress Shannon Elizabeth was working to secure these animals new homes through her Animal Avengers charity, and the Calvin Ayre Foundation decided to pitch in by holding a celebrity poker night. Thanks to this event, an additional $50,000 was raised.
  • During his travels across the globe, Ayre became aware of the practice of bear bile farming. The animals are captured and often kept in cramped conditions, and needles are then inserted into their abdomens to extract the bile (which is used in traditional Chinese medicine). The foundation worked to educate people on alternatives to bear bile, filming a documentary on the subject and also teaming up with the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Conclusion

Calvin Ayre, the founder of Bodog, is both shrewd and bombastic. He’s a self-made billionaire, although his public persona has long been a polarizing force within the gambling industry. Whether you love him or hate him, though, one thing’s for certain: you can’t deny his sheer talent for self-promotion or his willingness to take chances.

In his own words, “One of the things that drives me is the excitement that I could fail. What better buzz can you get?”