Regulation? Sure, Whatever.Whether or not the government decides to regulate the U.S.-facing online gambling industry makes little difference to established brands.
By Calvin Ayre, Bodog Founder and CEO
Much of the buzz surrounding today’s online gambling industry concerns the future role of the United States government. The questions are widespread, but, in the end, they boil down to just two: Will the politicians succeed in outlawing U.S.-facing online gambling? Or, will industry lobbyists succeed in achieving a regulated environment?
Obviously, the latter is the preferred outcome. At the very least, it would mean acceptance of one of the “unalienable rights” of man, which is “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” at least according to the United States Declaration of Independence. That said, let’s not assume regulation is the answer. In fact, it’s far from a perfect solution.
Market forces–not regulatory bodies–are what will drive online gambling into the American mainstream.
Make no mistake, the costs associated with red tape and bureaucracy are high. If and when regulation comes into existence, there will be significant expenses in implementing systems that comply with all the control and reporting requirements. That’s money that could be spent on researching and developing better technology to serve consumers. That’s money that could be spent offering customers bigger bonuses, better prizes, smaller rakes–basically, more money in their pockets.
However, to some members of the industry, regulation is simply the price of a government seal of approval. They want to tell their customers, “Hey, the government allows online gambling, so it must be safe.” This utopia sounds great in theory, but there’s a danger in removing the “buyer beware” sticker from products. In a self-regulating industry, it’s far more likely for people to do their due diligence before depositing with a gambling site. At the moment, they can investigate through online forums, read reviews or simply call the company to see if someone answers the phone.
In a regulated industry, however, there’s a tendency for consumers to let up on their vigilance. They mistakenly believe the government is watching out for them, and that’s simply not possible all the time–especially when consumers venture beyond the familiar brand names of the industry. Rogue sites can’t be stopped through regulation. They can only be stopped through the adherence of caveat emptor.
And it’s these sporadic rogue sites that can do online gambling so much damage. One fly-by-night operation that cheats a consumer makes the entire industry look bad. It encourages morally crusading politicians to pile on with unfounded allegations of widespread organized crime involvement. At the same time, a few land-based casinos–worried about their own market share–are given more ammunition to preach the dangers of placing bets with cyber-criminals.
If only they’d stop and ask the question: What possible motivations do large, established online gambling brands like Bodog.com have in cheating customers? Do critics really think crookedness is a feasible, long-term strategy? Do they really think the word wouldn’t get out, that the victims wouldn’t rise up in a wildfire of blogging and forum posting? Not only do the big brands not need to cheat customers to make money, it would be their death knell if they did.
Some one-time critics are starting to realize that. In fact, many in the U.S. casino industry have come to accept that Bodog along with others in the industry are, in fact, a symbiotic arm of the total gaming sector and not competitors. Online and land-based casinos are good for each other. Not only is online gaming growing the market for the land-based sector, it’s making the experience of gambling a more common one for Americans. Bodog is even educating the U.S. casino sector with a campaign that includes a billboard in Las Vegas with the message, “Training Casino Players All Over the World to Come to Vegas.” As an industry, we’re breaking down barriers every day and powering through walls.
Therefore, as Founder and CEO of Bodog.com, instead of lobbying the U.S. government to regulate online gambling, I prefer to focus on building Bodog into a mainstream brand–one with nothing to hide and everything under the entertainment sun to offer. This strategy, which includes branching out into forms of entertainment beyond gambling, began in earnest last year.
In July 2005, Bodog organized and produced “Bodog Salutes the Troops: A Tribute to American Heroes,” an event that supported more than 110,000 troops stationed at military bases in Hawaii. Funds raised benefited the Fisher House Foundation, which aids military families in need; the celebrity charity event was televised on Spike TV. Next, we staged one of the world’s biggest Super Bowl halftime parties, the Bodog.com Lingerie Bowl III at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The live pay-per-view halftime event captivated a global audience with celebrities, former NFL greats, a lingerie fashion show, performances by Bodog Music stars and a spectacular fireworks finale after supermodels had finished playing full-contact football for 30 minutes.
Then, it was on to producing the “Calvin Ayre Wildcard Poker” television series at the Bodog Compound in Costa Rica. The show aired on Fox Sports Net for six extremely successful weeks.
Meanwhile, Bodog Music was beginning its own huge undertaking, the Bodog.com Battle of the Bands. The winning band, which will be determined later this year, receives a $1-million contract with the Bodog Entertainment Group, including international distribution, touring, promotion and marketing services.
Does all this sound like the work of just a gambling company?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any company that’s going after the entertainment dollar – be it mainstream or not – we consider to be our competition.
For me, landing on the cover of Forbes’ “Billionaires” issue in March was a clear reflection that Bodog had crossed over into the mainstream of American consciousness. So too was my appearance in People’s “Hottest Bachelors” issue. Such publicity allowed me to share the stage with some of the world’s most famous household names—proof that we can become a part of people’s lives as long as they decide they want us. Fortunately for us, more and more people continue to say they do.