Olympic Gold Kayaker Alwyn Morris Faces Legal Battle Over Offshore Gambling Operations

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In the summer of 1984, Canadian kayaker Alwyn Morris carved a dash through the waters of California to win a gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. It wasn’t just his victory that made headlines, but his significant act of raising an eagle feather salute on the podium to honor his Indigenous Mohawk Nation roots. This momentous gesture turned him into an iconic figure, putting Indigenous athletes on the map of international sports. His notable accomplishments in sport and philanthropy later earned him a spot in the Order of Canada, a prestigious honor bestowed upon those who have made exceptional contributions to the nation.

Today, Morris finds himself navigating rougher waters. A once-celebrated Olympian and now a co-owner of Bovada, a prominent offshore online gambling site that operates in the U.S, Morris is facing legal headwinds with regulators in Connecticut and Michigan. Both states have recently voiced their concerns with Bovada’s seemingly unauthorized presence and its violation of the recently enacted online gaming laws.

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Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection Gaming Division (DCP) made known their next course of action – a cease-and-desist letter bound for Bovada. Michigan’s regulators had already fired their warning shot on May 29, requesting Bovada to halt its operations within the state within 14 days to avoid impending legal complications.

Operating in states with regulated online gaming, such as Connecticut and Michigan, has, perhaps inadvertently, put Bovada on the black market. The gambling site had previously committed to halt operations in other states including Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Nevada under analogous circumstances. In Michigan’s perspective, as confirmed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB), Bovada’s continued activities violate the Lawful Internet Gaming Act and the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act, which broadly restrict unlicensed providers from offering online gambling.

Tracing the early origins of Bovada, you’ll find yourself in early 2000 when Bodog, an online gaming site was launched by Canadian entrepreneur Calvin Ayre. At a time when applying for an online gaming license in the U.S was practically impossible, the legality of Ayre’s venture was nebulous. Nevertheless, Bodog rapidly ascended to become one of the pioneers in the industry, rendering Ayre a billionaire. He subsequently sold the business following the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006.

The helm was then assumed by Morriss Mohawk Gaming Group (MMGG), a company headquartered in Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec, with Morris serving as the founder and CEO. In 2009, MMGG altered the business name to Bovada, ushering Bodog’s players onto a new platform. By 2017, a Curacao-based company, Harp Media BV acquired stake in Bovada.

The shadow of past legal entanglements still lingers. The US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency, in February 2012, seized Bodog’s domain for allegations of illegal gambling activities. Ayre, despite having retired, found himself indicted on charges of illegal gambling and money laundering but avoided serious penalty through a plea deal. Last August, MMGG, along with Morris, Ayre, and Harp Media, were listed in a class-action lawsuit filed by a Kentucky resident accusing them of financially benefiting from unauthorized gambling in the state.

The significant financial repercussions these cases could carry is daunting if you consider the fact that in 2010, the State of Kentucky deployed a 200-year-old Gambling Recovery Act to sue PokerStars for proffering illegal gambling, a case that after ten years of litigation settled for a whopping $300 million.

Alwyn Morris, once basked in the triumphant glory of Olympic gold, now finds himself potentially facing the eerie glow of legal fires. With cease-and-desist letters looming and regulators scrutinizing, his journey in the world of online gambling could rapidly turn as challenging as his Olympic races.