Costigan said many sites since the Black Friday and Blue Monday cases have switched their sites to European domain names to elude seizure by U.S. authorities and continue to operate. For that reason, he said, the indictment against Bodog is unlikely to have a major impact. He noted that cash wasn't seized.

"When they hear money has been seized, then they start to freak out. That's not the situation here, nor is it the situation that their current domains are no longer operational," he said.

But John Warren Kindt, a business professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said such crackdowns could scare bettors.

Such sites have been "operating on the fringe for years, trying to find gray areas and legal loopholes," Kindt said. "The fact that [the government] is slamming down hard on several at one time is their way of getting the message to the public that gambling on the Internet is a federal crime."

Kindt warned online players that their risk isn't over when they leave the virtual betting table. "It's legally prohibited, but practically foolish" to gamble with sites that aren't regulated, Kindt said.

Gambling sites have gotten away with conducting business in foreign countries and using foreign banks to process transactions for American bettors. But as the industry exploded, many companies have turned to domestic payment processors or set up fictitious companies.

Federal investigators started an account with Bodog six years ago and began placing online bets. Authorities tracked the payments and gained a cooperating witness who told investigators that Bodog made "$250,000 to millions per day on sports bookmaking alone" and had hundreds of employees in Costa Rica and Canada.

In 2008, Maryland IRS investigators seized funds from the bank accounts of three payment processing companies suspected of handling money for Bodog — Georgia companies JBL Services and Transactions Solutions, and the California-based company Zippayments.com, court records show.

Two men connected to those companies, Edward Courdy of Zippayments.com, and Michael Garone of JBL Services, were charged with money laundering in 2008, the Baltimore City Paper reported, and authorities seized more than $23 million. While Courdy's case is no longer publicly available in the federal court database, records show Garone pleaded guilty to processing at least $7.9 million in payments for Bodog in 2008.

Garone's case remained under seal for more than two years because prosecutors said information provided by Garone was being used in investigations in New York and California, and because he was expected to testify at an undisclosed trial in New York. Garone received a year of probation, records show.

The indictment handed up by the grand jury against Ayre was filed by R. Scott Gunn, an Anne Arundel County detective and task force officer with the Homeland Security Investigations. The brief document says an undercover officer set up an account with a company called Ewalletxpress, which Bodog offered as one of its primary deposit methods.

The officer placed bets on Bodog.com, most recently last month, and was able to receive winnings by check, through a bank account in Maryland, and by cash, through Western Union.

Ewalletxpress shut down in November, first citing technical issues, according to Poker News Daily. Later, the company told merchants that it would not be able to continue service "due to a federal warrant issued to seize our funds."

In 2006, when Forbes profiled Ayre, he said his company was handling $7.3 billion in wagers, triple the volume of 2004. While 95 percent of his sales come from the United States, all of his assets were in Bodog's name, and he said he paid no income taxes in Costa Rica, where he lived.

His analysis of gambling laws at that time: "We run a business that can't actually be described as gambling in each country we operate in. But when you add it all together, it's Internet gambling."

Also charged with Ayre are three Canadian men described as operators of the site: Jason Philip, 58, and David Ferguson and Derrick Maloney, whose ages were not given. If convicted, each could receive up to 20 years in prison on the money laundering charge and five years on the illegal gambling count.

Bodog.com faces a maximum fine of $500,000 on each of the two counts. Initial appearances have not been scheduled, and it was unclear whether Ayre would turn himself in. Rosenstein said his office would "pursue all legal remedies to ensure the defendants are called to stand trial for the allegations."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com


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