Wizard of odds

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

HE WROTE THE BOOK

It's Super Bowl weekend and Calvin Ayre is at an incredible party.

Single and with money to burn, he is surrounded by gorgeous models from the Lingerie Bowl.

Although it's a fantasy to millions of guys, this is just an average day for this sports-wagering industry mogul.

From growing up on a pig farm to becoming the founder and CEO of Bodog.com - the most recognized offshore sportsbook used by United States gamblers, Ayre is on a heck of a ride.

Not too shabby for somebody who grew up just outside of Lloydminster.

(No, that's not a misprint. He's a prairie boy.)

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"It's a crazy life I am living right now. It's over the top in fact," said Ayre from Miami, just a short hop from his home in Costa Rica.

The 44-year-old Canadian is a self-made billionaire and is one of just two billionaires in the sportsbook industry.

In 2005, Bodog received 17 million sports wagers for a combined total of $1.2 billion US, nearly double the amount from 2004.

"Anybody (who) says money doesn't buy happiness has never had money," said Ayre, "because I have been poor and I have had money and I can tell you being poor is worse.

"I have been under water (before) with net asset value being a negative. I've been negative $100,000 in my life."

But his life took a dramatic turn when he read a simple article almost 15 years ago.

"I started the Bodog Entertainment Group with only $10,000 in cash," continued Ayre.

"I first envisioned a software company, but quickly shifted gears after reading an article on international sports betting companies that had utilized phones for wagering."

The goal shifted toward starting an online sportsbook.

Although he is a massive celebrity in the gaming industry and has more money than he knows what to do with, Ayre hasn't forgotten his roots.

But he does have a confession to make: he's not from Lloydminster - he's from Lashburn, SK.

"But nobody knows where that is, so I say Lloydminster," explained Ayre.

Located 29 kilometres east of the Alberta/Saskatchewan border city, Lashburn doesn't appear in Ayre's biography or stories about him in gaming circles.

However, he has nothing but fond memories of his childhood in the tiny prairie town.

"It certainly was fun, riding horses and building forts out of hay bales," he recalled.

He still goes home, but it has been nearly two years.

The early days of Bodog.com, which was finally launched in 2000, were anything but easy.

"Bodog.com was the industry laughingstock when they first came onto gambling911.com (forums)," said Christopher Costigan, the president of gambling911.com, a leading website for wagering news and discussions.

People laughed at the company's name while others questioned Ayre's aggressive growth projections.

But nobody is laughing now.

"The majority of sports bettors are first introduced to the (sports-wagering) industry by way of Bodog.com or Sportsbook.com due to both companies' mainstream marketing attempts. Ayre is a marketing genius."

His latest move has been to sign a 10-year sponsorship deal with the Lingerie Bowl, a pay-per-view event designed to be a halftime-viewing alternative for Super Bowl fans.

Besides being surrounded by Playboy models on Super Bowl weekend, the deal has also brought media attention to Ayre and Bodog.

In the last year, Bodog's brand has also been tied to the Hollywood blockbuster movie Two For The Money.

Movie scenes were shot in a restaurant owned by Bodog and the sportsbook's brand was splashed everywhere during the after-party of the premiere in Beverly Hills.

Bodog and its founder are barely known in Canada because the company doesn't advertise north of the border or accept wagers from Canadians.

"Scribbled on every whiteboard in our Costa Rican headquarters are the words: Ruthless Focus," explained Ayre.

"One of Bodog.com's greatest business strengths is our ability to remain focused on the tasks at hand, while still thinking two-steps ahead in terms of the future.

"Bodog.com has spent a great deal of effort penetrating the U.S. market, and it is starting to pay off.

"For the time being, we will continue to focus on the U.S. market, as there is still much potential to be realized."

However, Ayre definitely doesn't have a quiet past in Canada.

The B.C. Securities Commission nailed Ayre in October 1996 for insider trading as president of Bicer Medical Systems.

He is banned from the Vancouver Stock Exchange for another 10 years and was fined.

"I was just out of university and I failed to follow the rules of filing the proper paperwork," he explained.

"Nobody got hurt; it wasn't a criminal issue and I settled with them."

But Ayre strongly denies a published report of trouble with the U.S. Justice Department.

"There is absolutely no situation," he said.

As far as Ayre sees it, now is the time to take Costa Rica-based Bodog to new heights.

Like many offshore books, Bodog set up shop in Costa Rica because the government takes a hands-off approach.

In the U.S., accepting online wagers is illegal.

But living in Costa Rica brings major security risks for high-profile, ultra-wealthy executives.

"Kidnappings are a common occurrence in Central and South America and a great amount of effort must be spent on security," he said.

"I am always accompanied by armed Special Forces bodyguards. It is not ideal, but it is necessary."

Having a gun on his desk is another necessity.

If Ayre is right, this is only the beginning of Bodog's success.

Although the sportsbook and online casino are the most recognized aspects, Bodog has several other smaller companies, including a record label and entertainment magazine.

"The next five years will be one heck of a ride for Bodog.com," he predicted.

"We will continue to focus on evolving our product channels and brand, while evolving into a 21st Century mainstream digital entertainment and media giant."

The first step comes this spring with the debut of a TV series on FOX Sports.

"It's a six-week series on poker and lifestyle, which we are producing in the Bodog Compound where I live in Costa Rica," said Ayre, whose home spans a whopping 10,000 square feet.

"This show is definitely going to give people an eye opener of what it is like to live the Bodog lifestyle."

TOMORROW: The incredible story of a gambling addict's fall and redemption.


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