Roughly 800,000 Maryland drivers with license plates designed to commemorate the War of 1812 are now inadvertently advertising a website for an online casino based in the Philippines.
In 2012, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, Maryland redesigned its standard license plate to read “MARYLAND WAR OF 1812.” The license plates, which were the default between 2012 and 2016, have the URL www.starspangled200.org printed at the bottom.
Sometime within the last year, www.starspangled200.org stopped telling people about how Marylander Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” after watching British ships bombard Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 and started instead redirecting to a site called globeinternational.info, in which a blinking, bikini-clad woman advertises "Philippines Best Betting Site, Deposit 100 Receive 250."
The issue was spotted by a Redditor who said “I was never a fan of having a plate celebrating the War of 1812, but I’m even more upset now that I (and tons of other Marylanders) are driving advertisements for international online gambling.”
Domain registration information shows that starspangled200.org has been re-registered and transferred a handful of times within the last few years. It is not exactly clear when it stopped being a website about American history. The Internet Archive shows that as recently as December 2022, the website explained that “the young United States was embroiled in the War of 1812 and the Chesapeake Bay region felt the brunt of it.” A snapshot from today, however, explains that “Extremely lenient laws govern gaming,” in the Philippines. “This is a result of the growing popularity of gambling among tourists and the enormous casino resorts that have recently been built.”
A spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Administration told Motherboard that “there are currently 798,000 active War of 1812 license plates.”
“The website printed on the plates is not owned by the Motor Vehicle Administration. The plates' design and content originated from the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission created in 2007. Star-Spangled 200, Inc. is the nonprofit entity affiliated with the Commission that led the efforts to raise funds for bicentennial projects and events,” they said. “The MVA does not endorse the views or content on the current website using that URL, and is working with the agency’s IT department to identify options to resolve the current issue.”