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.
Oh yeah, and virtual cockfighting, because if you're going to mess up, no sense cutting corners.
Other media outlets were more kind in their headlines.
It was unintentional!
Something Maryland officials thought necessary to make clear.
"The MVA does not endorse the views or content on the current website using that URL," said [Ashley Millner, deputy director of media relations for the Maryland Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Administration].
Star-Spangled 200, Inc., was the nonprofit that received commission from the purchase of the plate, which helped fund bicentennial projects and events, and the URL used to lead to the organization's website.
So what happened?
Apparently, they didn't use any of the commissions earned through purchases of the plates to keep their registration of the URL current.
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.
People interested in Maryland's bicentennial commemorating the War of 1812 now get redirected to this.
The majority of gaming establishments are legal and well-controlled in the Philippines.
Extremely lenient laws govern gaming.
So, what to do when an official state license plate adorning hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles is inadvertently promoting gambling sites in the Philippines?
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."
It's not an IT issue, I don't believe. It's an ownership issue. It wasn't stolen, it was scarfed up as soon as it became available. This is a common practice and can be a real problem. In fact, I once lost a website in exactly this manner. I had a project that I eventually abandoned. I didn't have the URL registration on automatic renewal because I didn't care about it anymore. That URL now leads to a Chinese site promoting who knows what, but probably not Taiwanese independence or equal rights for Uighurs.
Absent having the State Department lean on the Philippines, I don't think they have a lot of options.
Well, save for one.
I suspect the current owner would want quite a haul for a domain name sported on the backs of 790,000 automobiles.