[Canada Cal, on the Haley beat---]
The circus atmosphere surrounding Monday's sudden outage at Bodog and rapid reappearance of the site's Internet home page deserves a little bit more than just a few links, doesn't it? And now, the rest of the story, or at least as much as has emerged to date:
NewBodog.com is no longer the bodog.com home, new home is at BodogLife.com
It was Monday evening, States time, that word began spreading that Bodog was down for reason or reasons unknown. It turned out that Bodog would be down for several hourse, and in true fashion, by the time most people learned of the outage on Tuesday, it had already been addressed, and Bodog was back up and business... in a manner of speaking. Once access of sorts had been restored, the software client, once opened, advised people that all the bodog-y information --- news, promotions, other stuff --- would be available by surfing to a brand new domain, newbodog.com. Since the game client has embedded hyperlinks that trigger browser windows when clicked, getting that software patch into place was a high priority.
However (and this is where it gets confusing), for most of the day on Tuesday, both bodog.com and newbodog.com were operational. Today you'll see that the bodog.com website is, in common parlance, a 'smoking crater.'
Now the backstory.
While everyone knew that something was going on during the day on Tuesday, no one knew quite exactly what. On the newbodog.com site, there was a message to customers that read as follows:
Why the newbodog.com?
Welcome to the new (temporary) Bodog. As you may know by now, Bodog.com is experiencing a technical issue impacting our players' ability to access our website.
This is the result of a legal dispute over the ownership of the Bodog.com domain name. We are fighting this dispute. We are confident that we will win, but until all is settled, I do not want our battle to interrupt your play.
So, I present you with newbodog.com. You won't notice very many changes: same website, same brand, same product, and same service. Just a new domain name.
We are working to resolve any remaining issues on the temporary site as soon as possible, and fully expect to have our original site back up shortly.
I sincerely apologize if you were affected by our interruption and assure you that I will update you soon.
In typical corporate-speak, the message gave a quick, glossy explanation of the what, and no explanation whatsoever of the why. It pointed to something legal-based, but no one knew what, though it was certainly ripe for the digging.
The answers started popping out early today, most notably in a post over at point-spreads.com, which not uncovered the basis for the suit itself, but recognized the shenanigans behind it. It turns out that an opportunistic web designer named Mel Molnick, the driving force behind the Nevada-based Home Gambling Network, had filed a suit claiming patent infringement, but not the nuts-and-bolts, here's-the-gizmo-I-invented way. Rather, Molnick, who filed this suit through his 1st Technology limited-liability corporation, believes that Bodog had infringed upon his 'process'.
Process patents are often dubious and frequently involve litigation, and all evidence suggests that Molnick is one of those types that specializes in legal blackmail. The patent in question is U.S. Patent #08/546,355, which reads as follows:
A method by which a player may participate in a live casino game from a location remote from the casino is disclosed. A player establishes an information link with a casino from an interface station including a video monitor and keypad. In response to the player's entry of financial account information, the casino establishes an information line with the player's financial institution. The casino assigns the player to a gaming table at which a "live" game is occurring, transmitting all images of game play and instructions to the player. The player transmits bet and game play information to the casino. Because of the open line between the casino and player's financial institution, bets are checked, winnings paid, and losses debited, instantaneously.
Really? Where in the entire Bodog universe is there a "live" table, where images are being transmitted to and from the user? What Molnick's patent describes is a real-life poker or blackjack table where one or two seats are dedicated to remote users, with images of the table and dealer and cards and such transmitted to the remotely placed user. Also, the "instantaneous," continuous connection to the remote user's "financial institution" never developed the way Molnick envisioned. Whatever his process patent covers, it ain't modern-day Internet gambling.
True, Molnick recognized that remote gambling had a chance to take off, but his patent application was filed in October, 1995, several months after the first Internet-based gambling games appeared. So he's been hijacking other people's ideas and pulling off corporate greenmail for what, 12 years now? As point-spreads.com notes, 1st Technology has targeted a series of big online names, including Ladbrokes.com, Sportingbet.com, Betsson.com, BetInternet.com and CasinoWebCam.com. Some have paid him off to make the trouble go away; others have not.
But there's more to this story, too. How exactly did a dubious suit against Bodog result in the shutting off of Bodog's own bodog.com domain? And was it even Molnick at all behind the complaint?
Maybe not. This is still unfolding. Instead, an updated point-spreads.com piece now points toward "Scott Lewis PhD. from Silicon Valley" as being the controlling force behind 1st Technology, the company receiving the judgment. It doesn't mean that Molnick's not involved; rather, this one could be layered a bit.
As to how it all came down, it was simple, really. Bodog decided to not bother answering the complaint in a Nevada court. Since they didn't show up for the August 1st matter, the judge had no choice but to issue a summary judgment to 1st Technology for the full amount sought, which was in excess of $49 million. Included in that was either a court decree to turn over what must have been described as a list of "offending domains" to 1st Technology, or to order those domains to be shut down in the entirety.
In truth, Bodog has always had a cavalier attitude in dealing with idea guys, as evidenced by their messy legal battle with Babette Pepaj and her Blue Moon Entertainment in the battle over production rights to "Calvin Ayre Wild Card Poker." But somewhere in the deep technical morass that is Bodog, the domain-name rights for bodog.com must have gone through a registar or hosting company that adheres to U.S. patent claims.
Why didn't Bodog retain a U.S. attorney to answer the claim? Was the company even served properly? No one is answering that. But it seems clear that Bodog wasn't, at least in this matter, as immune to the U.S. legal system as they have been in other areas.
You can bet that 1st Technonolgy researched it out in advance, and you can also bet that Bodog overlooked it. All of a sudden, summary judgment in hand, 1st Tech could go to the domain registrar (very likely ENOM) or whatever and say, "You have to turn this over to me. Judge Simon says." And that's what happened. The registrar notified Bodog, probably giving them 24-48 hours to get outta Dodge, and Bodog hustled major tech butt to get their new sites up and running without too horrendous an interruption in service.
But that some damage did occur is obvious --- for 12 hours or so, stretching into Tuesday morning, Bodog was pretty much kaput.
What's interesting is that multiple party lines are still coming out of Bodog. The official statement says that Bodog plans to fight, but an article over at G911 quotes an unnamed Bodog employee as saying: "'We are not negotiating with him...he can have the domains...we were up and running again in 12 hours and we have no intention of rewarding anyone for trying to use the US legal system to steal,' said a technical representative for Bodog."
One other issue, of course, is that while Molnick might have been able to force bodog.com to shut down, he can't actually use the site for anything, hence its current status. "Bodog" is an internationally registered trademark.
Still, the incremental damage to Bodog mounts. They have already issued an emergency notice to advertisers to update links to point to the 'newbodog.com' site, and there's no reason that 1st Technology or Molnick or Lewis or whoever can't start a new action to go after these names as well. The only viable solution for Bodog is to house all elements of their Internet process in countries that will not honor U.S.-court patent judgments.
In the meantime, as noted over at Iggy's Guinness and Poker blog, Bodog will take a massive hit in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). This game of corporate greenmail could have another chapter or two in the very near future.