Interview with Bodog Owner Calvin AyreTweet Share
So much has been written about Calvin Ayre that it is a little daunting for an interviewer to approach the subject, knowing how many have come before you.
Yet, talking to him, you realize this is a pretty regular guy who just happens to be a billionaire.
And the more we talked, I began to realize that no matter how many people interview him, each interview would probably be different, because his mind is quick and active, and he would probably get bored easily answering the same old questions in the same way.
So I tried to engage him on a variety of topics, from the selection process for Bodog Girls, to Mick Jagger, to the most outrageous thing he has ever done. Calvin Ayre answered them all with good humor and without the slightest bit of hesitation.
MF: First of all, I have a little cold, so if you hear me sniffling, it doesn’t necessarily mean you made me cry. Okay . . . I’ve heard of road dogs, show dogs, watchdogs, and even police dogs. What exactly is a Bodog anyway?
CA: Well I’m not sure if anything. Definitely, a good brand. The word itself I actually made up.
MF: Well, I’m interested in that, because it’s very catchy. How did you come up with it?
CA: Well, it was done methodically, scientifically, if you will. What I did was sit in front of a search engine for registering domains, and I went through combination’s of letters. I think it was like a 14-point checklist of criteria that the perfect brand had to have. And since it was going to be an internet company, of course getting the name was important. There were a bunch of things that were relevant to being the perfect brand. Six or less letters, optical symmetry, having a nice cadence when you see it, it sounds good when you see it in letters, sounds good when you say it out loud, it’s zeros and lines when you look at it, and yet it’s masculine, it’s got some substance to it, it feels like it’s almost a person. There’s a bunch of other criteria, I can’t even remember them all. It was a number of years ago, but basically, what happened was it was done methodically to find a word that would allow us to create the type of company around it.
MF: You’re a master of publicity. Are there any areas that are out of bounds for you?
CA: I don’t answer questions that don’t make sense.
MF: That question doesn’t make sense?
CA: No, no, I said I don’t. This one does. But I don’t if questions don’t make sense to me, like a tabloid sort of direction, I don’t dignify them with an answer. But anything that’s legitimate, that’s real, and a part of my life and a part of business, I will answer.
MF: By the way, I’m not going to bring up Martin Bashir.
CA: (Laughs) Yeah, we’ll see what he does to me tonight.
MF: How about an epilogue to the recent raid on your house.
CA: Yeah, I should be paying those guys for the publicity they gave me. And to me, it was just like anytime you can have a bunch of Keystone Cops raid your house and then completely make a mistake, you know, I mean basically my best way of describing this, it’s like somebody watched a trailer for a movie, and opened a murder investigation, based on that. That’s essentially what happened. And then 3 busloads of Costa Rica’s finest show up at my place, and all of a sudden, you know, it’s the next day after Forbes, the combination of being on the cover of Forbes, plus that raid, it’s just great publicity. And the way it played out in the international press was actually beautiful, too. How it showed up in the international media was that the police raided a raucous poker party at my place, and I’m like, okay, I’ll go with that. Great image.
MF: What was on the computer they seized? I don’t imagine you had anything important on it.
CA: It’s an e-mail machine; it’s a laptop I do e-mail on.
MF: And did you get it back?
CA: Yeah, they had it a few weeks; they said they copied the hard drive. But there was nothing of any interest on it, guaranteed.
MF: So legally, nothing came out of it?
CA: No, it’s over. Done. They missed. They were wrong.
MF: So, good PR for you, and they got nothing.
CA: Absolutely. It’s like, over.
MF: What is the process by which someone becomes a Bodog Girl?
CA: Well, I mean, there are a number of different types of Bodog Girl. There’s our monthly Bodog Girl on Bodog Nation, the model. And that’s just professionals from the agencies; I got my team doing it. If it’s the Event Models, then that’s my Event Team that does the castings, and lines them up. I actually have very little to do with it, but I will tell you that today, I still get emails from girls who want to become Bodog Girls, and some of them send nude pictures. It’s pretty funny. They must guess my e-mail address.
MF: You know, the prevailing image is that possibly you audition them yourself. There’s no truth to that?
CA: No, no, I got nothing to do with it. If a girl sends me an e-mail and I think she’s pretty, I forward it to my Event Team and say here, audition her too. But I have nothing to do with it. Wait, wait, wait, back step. The Event Models, my Event Team signs off on, but the one that goes out monthly, I do sign off on her, but only pictures. I don’t actually meet them.
MF: You’ve been called the new Hef, been named as one of the hottest bachelors by People Magazine, and compared to Indiana Jones. Do you ever feel as if you have Multiple Personality Disorder?
CA: Well, I’m multi-dimensional. I don’t have multiple personalities.
MF: That’s a great answer.
CA: I don’t have just one style. I do a number of things that some people think don’t belong together, and I do them very well, which seems weird to people, but for me, it’s completely normal. I mean, I don’t understand why, just because you’re successful in business you shouldn’t be interested in helping charitable causes. They can work together very well. I also don’t understand why people have a problem with the fact that you can work really hard and party really hard.
MF: Yeah, why do they have a problem with that?
CA: I don’t get it. I mean to me, that’s just balance. What’s the point of working hard if you don’t get to blow off some steam? So to me, it all makes sense, but some people have a problem with it. Whatever.
MF: Taking that a step further, a corporation will buy out someone such as yourself, who by unconventional means creates this wonderful product or enterprise, then have the buttoned-down guys manage it. It doesn’t make sense.
CA: Yep . . . So, in a nutshell though, there’s only one thing going on in my head, but I’m multi-dimensional. My style in each area is pretty much similar. The passion and intensity that I bring to everything is the same. Whatever direction I’m going in.
MF: So basically, the public Calvin really doesn’t differ much from the private Calvin.
CA: Nah, what you see is pretty much what you get, and that’s actually why it works. People would have a lot more problems with the whole thing that I’m selling if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s—oh yeah, he’s actually really like that. I’ve always been this way, this isn’t something that just got rolled out, what is different is we made the conscious decision to allow people to see other parts of me, other than just the business guy. It was going to happen anyway. I actually made the decision 18 months ago to open up my life a little bit to the rest of the world, because I could see the success Bodog as a brand was getting, and there was going to be at some point curiosity about like who is the guy behind this. So, instead of just letting it roll out and not having any control over the message, what I did is, I was the one that put it out there and that gives me the ability to have some control over it at least.
MF: How has that been going? You said 18 months ago, what’s it like being in the public eye all the time, or a lot of the time?
CA: Mostly, okay. But there are things that aren’t as good, there’s no question. Being anonymous has its bonus. I don’t know, I mean, I feel on average I’m pretty happy, but I certainly look back nostalgically to before this happened.
MF: Yeah, like being able to be unshaven and dressed poorly, and stumbling to the 7-11 for a cup of coffee, and no one taking pictures of you, right?
MF: David Williams was recently exposed for being in a porn movie.
CA: Yeah, (laughs)
MF: Now I have no problem with that personally, but has that helped or hurt Bodog’s image?
CA: It hasn’t had any effect. People judge David based on his personality and his poker skills. And those haven’t changed. And David’s a great guy. We’re very proud to be working with David; it’s had no impact on anything.
MF: Okay. It’s been stated that you have been with more women than Mick Jagger.
CA: (laughs) It wasn’t stated by me. I don’t know who published that, but that’s just tabloid stuff. I don’t keep track, I have no idea, and it didn’t come from me. So—
MF: Well my question was going to be, if you could trade lives with Mick, would you?
CA: Not now. If you had asked me this question 10 years ago I’d probably say yeah, hell yeah, but I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.
MF: Bodog underwent a software upgrade earlier this spring. A lot of people complained about it, Bodog made adjustments, proving it listens to players.
CA: Not only that, but that fact that we are doing stuff that puts us in the space that allows people to complain, shows that we are experimenting. You know, it’s a lot simpler just to follow the rest of the pack, but at the end of the day you’ll never ever be able to differentiate yourself or come up with something new that’s innovative and positive in the players’ direction without taking chances. And Bodog’s a risk taker. We take chances. We’re trying to actually improve things. Whether we hit it or not, is something that’s debatable, and we can work on, but at the end of the day, we at least take those chances, and that’s part of what makes Bodog, Bodog.
MF: An innovator.
CA: We’re not scared.
MF: Have things gone back to what they were pre-upgrade?
CA: Yeah, we’re pretty much back to where we were.
MF: I personally actually like the upgrade.
CA: Yeah, now we’ve actually tweaked a number of things that we missed, but it’s a pretty cool system the way the interface works. We’ve tweaked the stuff that people didn’t like and it’s different, definitely, we think it’s pretty slick. It’s simple. We think it’s a pretty simple interface.
MF: For those who enjoy living vicariously, describe a typical party at your house.
CA: At my house?
CA: It’s like a waterslide, at a water park. You get in at the top, and a few moments later, you have a face full of water and bubbles. And you say—that was incredible. What happened? That’s a Bodog party. We try to make it intense, any event that we manage and produce, we try to make the experience so stimulating that the time goes by so fast, that you feel when the party’s over, you feel like you just got there. That’s a Bodog party.
MF: What differentiates Bodog from other online poker sites? I think you answered this partially, but maybe you’d like to address that.
CA: There are a lot of things that make us different. I think our image and brand are edgier and more fun. I think we have a broader entertainment offering, with all the stuff we’re doing, but I think the quality of our product and our customer service is at the top of the industry. I think we’re pretty strong everywhere.
MF: What’s the best thing about being Calvin?
CA: Honestly? The ability to help people around me, if I think they need help. That’s the best thing.
MF: Care to elaborate?
CA: Just the freedom to be able to, like boom, offer assistance to people if you see a problem . . . in my environment, like stuff around me. That’s the coolest thing. The second coolest thing, which is right behind it, is just the freedom to be mobile. You know, I want to hop on a plane and go somewhere, I just do it. With an Internet connection, I’m fully functional, so I’ve got this complete freedom of mobility. It’s pretty cool.
MF: What’s the worst thing about being Calvin?
CA: I’d say the worst thing is probably what most people would think is the best thing, just the whole sort of celebrity event thing that we do. They’re actually way more work, and a lot less fun than most people think. I think anyone who thinks that producing celebrity events is a lot of fun, has never done one. They’re actually a lot of work. Because it’s a production that’s being done for a specific purpose. They’re not as much fun as if you’re just going to a party.
MF: Certainly, because you’re not involved in the whole planning aspect.
MF: As a child, what were some of your biggest fears?
CA: I’m claustrophobic. But I’m not really scared of much. I’m not a scared guy. Other than claustrophobia, I don’t really have any.
MF: A lot of people think having a lot of money would be the end of all their problems. Are there destructive aspects to being a billionaire?
CA: No, actually money itself isn’t really the issue. The notoriety you get from having the money, that can be destructive. And it really has a weird impact on all the people that are around you. And it also creates, like, like . . . stalkers. Weird people. Obsessive people. There are certain people that are just haters. And anytime that you’re successful, they don’t like it, and they try to do stuff to hurt you. For no reason, other than the fact that they just don’t like other people who are successful. So that’s kind of a weird thing, and you see that with all people who are high profile.
MF: Do you think a lot of those types of people who have that sort of mentality have jobs in the media?
CA: Nah. Mostly, they are just people that actually have psychological problems. It’s not typically the media. Most of the media are very, very balanced people, or they wouldn’t be able to do what they do, right?
MF: How does Costa Rica benefit from having you in the country?
CA: Balance of trade, balance of payments, just the general economy, we hire a lot of people, dump a lot of money into the economy, we’re a pure exporter of services out of Costa Rica, so we’re very good for the Costa Rican economy.
MF: I’d like for you to talk a little bit about the foundation you’ve set up.
CA: That’s another positive effect we have. We do have a foundation set up in Costa Rica, with a worldwide charter, but obviously most of the work we’re doing right now is in Costa Rica, though we are setting up in the Philippines as well. And we do do some stuff in the Untied States. But basically, the foundation that I created, you can find it at calvinayrefoundation.com, but it basically has 3 mandates: We are interested in causes that are related to animal welfare, environmental issues, and education for the disadvantaged. Our biggest program in Costa Rica right now, the one that most people know about, is the Adopt-A-School Program, which we are prototyping right now with one school out in Grecia. It’s on the way to Puntarenas.
MF: And what does that entail, exactly, adopting a school?
CA: Well, bringing the standard of education up, and the infrastructure up.
MF: What was the greatest moment in you life? Excluding this one, of course.
CA: The greatest moment in my life . . . hmm . . .Wow.
MF: Hard to say?
CA: Yeah. What was the greatest moment of my life? I don’t know, I mean, maybe getting that Forbes cover . . . Graduating from University was pretty cool, High School graduation, there are a number of things that are defining moments in anybody’s life. And I’d say I have the same ones as everybody else, in most cases. But the Forbes thing was an unusual honor that I didn’t expect, and didn’t know about until 3 days before it hit. So, that was kind of cool.
MF: Was there any downside to that exposure?
CA: Um . . . like I was saying about the haters. The people who are predisposed to dislike the fact that things are going well for me, sort of became more hateful, but whatever. That’s just a reality of being high profile.
MF: Who do you admire?
CA: My father. He’s my number one hero. A great character.
MF: Have any stories to tell about him?
CA: No, he’s just a risk-taker, he’s humble and talented, and he’s a model that I try and follow.
MF: Is there something valuable that he taught you, aside from the usual valuable things fathers teach?
CA: Yeah, the most valuable thing he taught me was, when I was a kid, he told me, he says, never get a job. Work for yourself.
MF: Good advice. I went to your music website, and all the musicians that are featured there, they look, uh, kinda dangerous. You know, with names like Bif Naked, Britt Black, The Vincent Black Shadow—
CA: Yeah, they’re all nice people. That’s, you know, that’s just marketing.
MF: I was just going to ask you if they threatened you to sign them.
CA: No, no, they’re all nice people. A lot of that is what we’ll call posturing.
MF: The music thing has got to be a little bit exciting, yes?
CA: It’s fun. A lot of fun. But it’s also, yet to be proven, but I think you are going to see I was right in combining those 2 types of digital entertainment, online gaming and music. And it wasn’t obvious to people, a lot of people thought that when I started doing the music stuff I was just wasting my time, it was just going to be a distraction for me. But I think that you’re going to see that people are going to get it, once I start rolling out my publishing tours out and stuff, that are related to the music stuff I’m doing. And once people start seeing the amount of traffic that I’m able to generate through this, and steal back from all of my entertainment properties, so I’m creating a positive feedback group.
MF: What’s left for you to conquer?
CA: I’m just focusing right now on getting it right with the stuff that I’m doing. I don’t have any plans. If there is anything new that we’re not doing already, it would probably be a jurisdictional expansion, like going into Asia or Europe. Right now, we’re really focused on what we’re doing.
MF: What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?
CA: Climbed up the outside of a building when I was drunk in the middle of the night in Greece, in the dark.
MF: How high was it?
CA: Six floors up. I was jumping balcony to balcony going up.
MF: And what prompted you to do this? Because it looked like fun?
CA: There were 2 sexy Danish women up there and it was after 11 P.M., and they weren’t allowed to have guests.
MF: So you solved that problem.
CA: I did. You should have seen the look on the guy’s face when I came walking out.
MF: No obstacles, that’s your motto?
CA: Well, I did my best. I got up there.
MF: That’s kind of a metaphor for your whole career.
CA: Pretty funny, eh?
CA: Bodog is about fun. I would like you to make that point. We’re in the entertainment business and we’re about digital entertainment. We’re a fun brand. And part of the reason why we’re doing such a good job of selling that message is because we live it. Work hard, play hard.
MF: So that would be how you would characterize the Bodog experience?
CA: That is Bodog.
MF: And why is it more fun than others out there?
CA: I think it’s because we live it. It’s real. We’re doing it, ourselves.
More than fifteen years after starting Bodog Poker, Calvin Ayre is still going strong. Now based in Antigua, Bodog continues to be among the most respected online poker rooms. Evelyn Ng headlines Team Bodog along with Amanda Musumeci, who replaced former pro David Williams in 2010. In addition to Bodog, Ayre has a multitude of business and charitable projects, including BodogMusic and The Calvin Ayre Foundation.