Why do thousands of Maryland license plates promote a Philippines gambling site?

Almost 800,000 Maryland license plates, designed to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, now promote a Philippines gambling website that features online gambling and virtual cockfighting.

When the plates were created in 2007, the website listed — www.starspangled200.org — pointed computer users to the state’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

“Star-Spangled 200, Inc. is the nonprofit entity affiliated with the Commission that led the efforts to raise funds for bicentennial projects and events,” said Ashley Millner, deputy director of media relations for the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Administration, in an email.

However, authorization for the commission ended in 2015, and ownership of the domain has changed. Now, that URL address redirects users to the gambling site.

“The MVA does not endorse the views or content on the current website using that URL,” said Millner.

The problem is widespread. “There are currently 798,000 active War of 1812 license plates,” said Millner. That’s approximately 15% of the 5.2 million vehicles registered in Maryland.

It’s not clear how the state plans to deal with the situation, since the matter was brought to the MVA’s attention. Millner said the MVA “is working with the agency’s IT department to identify options to resolve the current issue.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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