While license plate problems typically center around durability concerns, Maryland is currently experiencing something far more embarrassing. The state known for Big Bill Hell’s Cars and heaping Old Bay on everything is staring down the barrel of a license plate SNAFU of comical proportions: Nearly 800,000 license plates are now advertising a Filipino gambling website.
So how could something like this happen? Well, it starts with misty-eyed history. Maryland is proud of the War of 1812, which is stupid because it happened 200 years ago and nobody won. Francis Scott Key, a Marylander, apparently got the inspiration for “The Star Spangled Banner” from the bombing of Fort McHenry, but we’re talking a war of identity rather than territory gains or leadership change here.
Anyway, 2012 was the bicentennial of this spat and Maryland wanted to celebrate this with a special default license plate. From 2012 to 2016, every standard Maryland license plate carried the URL www.starspangled200.com, which directed distracted drivers to a website containing the story behind the national anthem. Notice the past-tense “directed,” because it doesn’t do that anymore. Somewhere along the line, someone forgot to renew the URL. Uh-oh.
According to domain registration records, the anthem info domain was last updated on Nov. 7, 2022, and that update redirected web users to a Filipino online casino with particularly dodgy-looking web design. Seriously, it looks like a place you’d pirate the recipe to Chef Boyardee ravioli from rather than a legitimate business.
Vice reports that roughly 798,000 of these license plates are currently active, which sounds pretty bad. However, Maryland is a front plate state, meaning that roughly 399,000 vehicles are accidentally advertising gambling. Still not great, but it softens the blow a little bit. Believe it or not, this all could’ve been avoided if it weren’t for the scourge of outsourcing.
Ashley Millner, spokesperson for Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration, told the Washington Post, “The URL is not and was never owned or maintained by the MVA.” I beg your pardon? While third-party outfits on license plates aren’t unheard-of, this isn’t quite like Texas having a Mighty Fine Burgers license plate because the initial owner of the starspangled200 domain name was the official Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. Created by executive order, this commission was reportedly shut down in the past few years, and whatever plan to sunset the URL clearly doesn’t seem to have been adequate.
While it’s easy to laugh at this whole situation, it could be an expensive problem to rectify. Either Maryland will need to repurchase the URL or the state will need to replace all affected license plates in order to sweep this embarrassment under the rug. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, isn’t it?
(Photo credits: eBay, globeinternational, who.is)
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