The panel that I have organized for the ISA annual Convention in early April addresses the theme of Drugs, Gambling and Sex: Interrogating the Connections/Disconnects Between the Licit and Illicit.
The (hopefully) catchy nature of the title however should not mask the seriousness of the issues addressed through this type of research. What jumps out in areas such as Internet Gambling (IG) – the topic of my own presentation – is the grey or murky area between the legal and the illegal.
The extent of the grey area has been captured in headlines over the last few days — including a front-page story in the sports section of the Globe and Mail on the indictment of Calvin Ayre, the founder of Bodog, for operating Internet gambling sites.
Although Colin Freeze does a really good job in highlighting the paradox of this case, in pointing to the transnational nature of the IG industry, this dimension could have been teased out in an even more nuanced fashion.
By pointing to the stark reality that US prosecutors, while charging Ayre and others for running an ‘illegal’ industry, do not have these individuals in custody because they “are all up there in Canada” Freeze does not showcase in any detail the distinctive nature of the IG industry.
One element is the high-tech orientation. Unlike stereotypical murky gambling operations in the past the IG industry is highly innovative and flexible — including sites. Bodog, branding itself as an intellectual property licensing enterprise must keep ahead not only of US authorities but competitors located around the world.
The other element is a clearer definition of what 'offshore' means. Despite the tendency to see the offshore as fictional locations (as in discussions of overseas financial centres or tax havens) with very little connection with the locality they are operating in, IG is quite the opposite. Unlike the ‘mail box’ operations of other offshore activity the IG industry employs local citizens and is deeply connected to domestic economies.
I have done work on the IG industry in the small Caribbean island of Antigua – where Ayre located many of the Bodog operations. But from 2006 to 2011 Bodog operated in cooperation with the Mohawk Gaming Group in Kahnawake, a location (especially as The MMGG continues to operate with other partners) that opens up very different questions about what the offshore is in the 21st century – along with a host of other sensitive issues about sovereignty and the trade offs between the opportunities of economic development in innovative (albeit murky) areas versus the risks of stigmatization.