It's not uncommon for license plates to bear some kind of web address. Often it leads to a state government website or the local DMV. In Maryland, though, things have gone awry, with around 800,000 license plates now advertising a gambling site from the Philippines.
As covered by Vice, the issue came about when Maryland redesigned its license plates to celebrate the bicentenary of the War of 1812. The plate became standard issue in mid-2010. It was initially intended for the design to be issued until June 2015, but instead remained Maryland's standard plate until September 2016. The plate bears a design featuring the US flag, and a silhouette of Fort McHenry, along with the URL "www.starspangled200.org." This was all well and good, until recently, when the registration of the URL lapsed.
Up until late 2022, that URL led to a website with historical information on the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. However, according to ICANN records, the domain's registration lapsed sometime around September 2022, when it was registered by a new anonymous owner. Now, the URL redirects to "globeinternational.info," which hosts a website promoting online casinos based in the Philippines. The issue first surfaced on Reddit, before later coming to the attention of state officials.
Since the plates were standard issue in Maryland for several years, there are plenty of cars in the state now essentially advertising online gambling. An official for the Department of Transportation told Vice that there are approximately 798,000 active registered plates currently bearing the War of 1812 design.
The issue may prove difficult to rectify. The URL used on the plates was registered by the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, not the Maryland Department of Transport. Beyond that, the domain's new owner is under no obligation to return the site. Potential solutions aren't attractive. The state could purchase back the domain, but would have to pay whatever sum the new owner demands. Alternatively, it could reissue new plates and eat the cost of doing so.
Realistically, it's not a major issue that causes anyone great harm. However, it's a good lesson for transport officials going forward. Don't slap some random URL on a license plate unless you're confident the state will have control over it for the foreseeable future.
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