The History of Online Casinos
Thanks to the rise of technology and the invention of the internet our lives have become much easier today and some of us don’t remember the times when life was different. You can nowadays shop online, order groceries online, pay your bills, work and gamble. Gambling is one particular industry that has really flourished by going online and today internet gambling is one of the fastest-developing industries, with the global market being valued at USD 48.52 billion in 2018. This number is only expected to grow in the next few years. But how did the industry grow with such a tremendous pace over the course of a little more than two decades? Let’s find out.
It is quite difficult to point out a specific date when online gambling began, however it is commonly believed that the industry began shaping in 1994, the year when Antigua and Barbuda established its Free Trade and Processing Act, granting licenses to companies who wanted to provide online gambling services. In the same year, across the ocean one of the biggest software companies today – MicroGaming, was established in the British Isle of Man.
The First Online Casinos
Microgaming is responsible for the creation of the first ever online casino back in 1994 – The Gaming Club. This casino has very little in common with the online casinos that we know today. However at the time the idea was revolutionary and players were able to play real casino games on their personal computers for the first time. Of course, at the time there was no way for customers to deposit money online, so all bets were just for fun. This all changed a year later, when in 1995 a company called CryptoLogic made an appearance. They specialized in real money transactions over the internet and were able to establish the first real-money online casino – InterCasinos, a brand that still exists today and have since its beginning paid out winnings of more than $3 Billion. It is thanks to the revolutionary work of CryptoLogic in making online transactions fast and secure that we saw the first real-money bets going online, which paved the way for what we have today. By the end of 1996 there were already approximately 15 online casinos in operation, with the number jumping to 200 only a year later in 1997. By that time, the market already reached an annual revenue of $1Billion.
It did not take much time for people to realize the potential of online casinos and quickly players became hooked on this new and exciting way to enjoy gambling. In the following years many more companies were inspired by the success of InterCasino and followed in their footsteps. Numerous new online casinos emerged on the market and the industry became extremely competitive. Each brand wanted to make a name for themselves and to offer the highest number of titles or the biggest variety of game types. Since technologies were not as developed at the time, casinos had to be very creative in their marketing and come up with the best terms to attract customers. This is how casinos started offering various incentives to customers to join, such as welcome bonuses, vip bonuses and other offers.
Thanks to the extremely competitive market, online casinos started to push the boundaries of technology and were coming up with better quality games. Many gambling sites started adding new and better features and soon online casinos were the new craze. We started seeing features such as multiplayer games, themed slots, and progressive jackpots which made online casinos even more popular with the masses.
In 2003 we saw another breakthrough in online gambling when the first Live Casino was introduced. Live Casinos made it possible for gamblers to play one-on-one with the live dealers via a video stream, which made online gambling even more similar with the traditional casino. Only two years later the first mobile casino got introduced on the market which once again changed the way we play. In 2005 Playtech was one of the first providers to make their games compatible with most mobile operating systems, which is now the norm for the majority of games available. Since then, innovation and high-quality products have been the most important goals of software developers and casinos alike and both are working towards providing gamblers around the world with the best possible casino experience.
Apart from online casinos, we saw the birth of Poker Rooms in 1998 when Planet Poker introduced the first online version of Texas Hold’em. The platform quickly became a hit and attracted different industry legends, such as the WSOP bracelet winner Chris Ferguson. Since the technology was still developing at the time, players were experiencing some technical difficulties with the site due to slow and unstable internet which eventually led to the demise of the site.
Thankfully soon after we started seeing many new names on the market such as Paradise Poker which launched in 1999 in Costa Rica and Poker Starts which launched in 2001 and became one of the biggest poker card rooms known nowadays.
Those who are used to the flashy online casinos available today will be very disappointed with what was offered in the first online casinos. The range of available games was quite limited, graphics were still quite pixelized and the software was not nearly as responsive as it is today.
The first online casino provider as we mentioned above is Microgaming, which launched in 1994. The company had a pretty small team back then and a limited budget, which however did not stop them from launching the very first online casino. Thanks to their incredible dedication and innovative software Microgaming is still around today and is leading the online casino software market.
Two years after Microgaming created the first online casino another industry giant came into the picture – NetEnt. The Swedish developer launched in 1996 and created some of the most innovative games for the time. Their portfolio included games such as slots, card and table games. Around the same time other important names today started to appear – Big Time Gaming in 1996, Realtime Gaming in 1998, and Playtech in 1999. With more competitors in the game, casino providers were pushed to come up with better looking graphics, more responsive software and more interesting stories.
The industry landscape has changed a lot since then and today we have hundreds of software providers which continue comimg up with brilliant new slots every week. Nowadays it is the norm for games to have interesting themes, high-responsiveness, exceptional quality and many ways to win.
Thanks to the constant innovations in technology we already saw the first games made for virtual and augmented reality, as well as live-play and mobile casinos and we are sure that we are going to see even more in the future.
Naturally, as casinos moved online, we started seeing the first online sportsbooks appearing as early as 1996. In this year the first online sportsbook appeared – Interops which was soon followed by many more. Placing online wagers became very popular and we saw the industry taking off in a big way. Many new names entered the market, and bigger bookmakers which were already opening online joined the scene to keep up with the new competition.
As the competition here was just as fierce as with online casinos, many bookmaker sites offered generous bonuses to new clients and other perks for loyal customers such as cash-back, enhanced odds, free bets and other offers aimed to attract new clients. Live betting was introduced in 2002, which allowed customers to place wagers as the events were happening. This instantly became a hit with bettors and boosted the popularity of online betting even further.
Online Gambling Regulations
With the rising popularity of online gambling, governments around the world saw the need to regulate the activity and many new organizations got formed throughout the years.
The first gambling authority that could legally license an online casino was established in Antigua and Barbuda in 1994. The next gambling regulator – the Mohawk Territory Kahnawake Gaming Commission was established in Canada in 1996 to regulate and give licenses to online poker rooms and casinos. Today, there are more than 20 gambling regulators around the world which have the authority to license online casinos.
What’s the future of Online Casinos?
It is clear that the online gambling industry has progressed a whole lot during the past 20 years and so far, there is no signs that this is going to stop. There are thousands of online casinos that launch every year and the competition is fiercer than ever. The global revenue for the sector is also on the rise with experts predicting that online gambling will be worth USD 102.97 billion by 2025, a jump of 11,5% from 2019.
With the boom in the number of web gamblers and operators worldwide, many games have been proposed and indeed submitted into the number of regular games in the casinos. Many online casinos have also introduced live dealers into their games. The future of online casinos looks bright and as long as there is technological advancement, online casinos will become better and even more realistic.
Voice of the Player Magazine Issue 7, Article List