History of Online Gambling
Those of us with an interest in gambling certainly do have plenty of different ways to do it. The relatively brief history of online gambling has taken us from very basic play to today’s ability to place sports bets, play poker, bingo or casino games from home or a mobile device.
Depending on your age, you may recall the very first online gambling sites that went live. Over the years those sites have kept evolving to the stage whereby they are now going offer a fully-rounded gaming experience which can be as good as, if not better than, when you visit a land based brick and mortar casino.
I‘ve put together the following timeline and overview of how the online gambling environment has evolved, highlighting certain events and dates when major innovations took place in the history of online gaming.
The Very First Casino Sites
It was in the early 1990s that a range of different companies set about launching the very first online casino sites. However, looking back those casinos could at best be described as extremely basic, offering players some low quality casino-styled games – and not many of them, either.
But those very first casino sites, and companies involved in their creation, did open the floodgates in regards to other companies investing heavily in research and development
Whilst all of the first casinos that launched in those early days have now closed and fallen by the wayside, some major companies were born who are best known as pioneers of the industry.
The Launch of First Fully Downloadable Online Casino
I have met many people over the years who have been involved in online gambling, and one of them, we shall call him John, told me a story of how he was on a plane one day, and sat alongside him was a young chap who spent the entire flight tapping away on his laptop computer.
They struck up a conversation and it turned out he was designing an infrastructure for an online casino. During the remainder of that flight, the conversation progressed and it was agreed that as soon as the software was ready to roll and the infrastructure and backend was working, John would license a few casinos off him.
That guy tapping away vigorously was one of the founders of Microgaming, who launched that company in January 1994. It was six months later in June 1994 that Microgaming then launched their very first fully operational fully downloadable online casino.
What made Microgaming’s software unique was unlike many of the other casinos around at the time the graphics on all of their available games were top notch and the software wasn’t bug riddled which many of their competitors software was.
In no time at all Microgaming licensed their software to many different companies and they are best known as one of the very first companies that produced a software platform that players enjoyed using, offered a huge and growing range of games and introduced online casinos to the masses.
Online Casino Regulation
One thing that hadn’t been considered back in the very early years of online gambling was the regulation of casino sites. In fact, many casinos that did go live before the advent of Microgaming were not licensed anywhere at all.
However, one Caribbean nation, that being Antigua and Barbuda had the foresight to put into place an infrastructure that allowed them to license and regulate online casino sites and enabled the operators of those sites to place their servers in Antigua and Barbuda and operate, at the time, perfectly legally by doing so.
That was probably one of the smartest decisions ever made, for that led to a huge number of gambling related sites basing their servers and often their offices there, add gave the industry an air of respectability.
Whilst nowadays many countries have developed their own online gambling related licensing and regulation infrastructures, and now require companies involved in online gambling to get a license issued in each of the countries they wish to operate, back then as long as a casino site was licensed in Antigua and Barbuda those sites were deemed to be legal no matter where a player was based.
Secure Financial Transactions
The only way that a player could deposit into an online casino back in the 1990s was by using a debit or credit card.
Unlike today where some countries have demanded that banking institutions block transactions into gambling related sites, if you did have a credit or debit card back then your transactions were always processed instantly with no problems whatsoever!
Security protocols were of course quite basic back in those days, however that spawned the launch of another company that was to become a huge name in online gambling, that being Wagerlogic, who designed and then launched a safe and secure system for processing payments online.
Wagerlogic was part of Cryptologic who went onto also design an online casino software platform which quite a number of companies chose as the engine that powered their online casino sites. It was in 1995 that Cryptologic launched their very first casino site.
Cryptologic, however, did fall out of favour with players and in 2011 they were sold to Amaya who then sold that company on to NYX in 2015.
The Rise of Online Poker Sites
It was four years after the launch of the online casino sites that the very first online poker sites then went live.
Whilst the only poker game available at those new poker sites back in 1998 was Texas Hold’em Poker, they proved to be an instant hit with players, and virtually overnight the online poker phenomenon became a reality. Planet Poker were the pioneers of online poker when they launched in that year.
Many so-called industry experts did at the time speculate that online poker was just a fad, and was never going to take off, they were proved to be spectacularly wrong. Inspired by the popularity of Planet Poker, more companies began launching their own proprietary poker software platforms as developers strived to make improved versions. Paradise Poker (launched in 1999) was next up and this was followed by hundreds of different poker sites.
The incredible popularity of the online poker boom did not escape the notice of the US government and this was a major influence in the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) which we will come to later.
Online poker’s popularity has waned since those heady days but is still very much available.
Progressive Casino Games go live
One type of casino game that had been missing from the games’ menus at online casinos in the 1990s were progressive jackpot awarding games.
Due to the way that those games operate, with a small percentage of each player’s stake being fed into the jackpot pools, it was quite a technical achievement for a company to develop those games and make them a reality online.
However, that is something that Microgaming did manage to achieve, and in 1998 they launched what was to become one of their most popular progressive games that being the Cash Splash slot.
Since that day on the number of progressive jackpot awarding games has continually grown, and nowadays you are going to be able to play not only slot machines online that offer progressive jackpots but every category of casino game.
It should be noted that Microgaming are one of the only companies that made the decision that as soon as a player wins one of their networked progressive jackpots they are to be paid out those winnings in one single payment.
Most other companies that offer such games leave it up to their casino licensees as to how to pay out their jackpot winners, which can often see some players being drip fed their jackpots over weeks, months or years.
1999 also saw the launch of another company that supplied a fully downloadable and at the time a state-of-the art gaming software platform. That company was Boss Media.
What was unique about their product was it offered players multi-player games, and as such players were no longer forced to play in a solitary way but could sit and play card and table games alongside other players.
With the use of a chat room type feature attached to those games it was also possible for players to communicate and interact with each other.
I did play at many Boss Media powered casinos back then and whilst I found them to offer plenty of unique games, players didn’t really appreciate them. As such many of the Boss Media powered casinos that were launched didn’t stay in business for long due to a lack of players playing at their sites.
Also in 1999, Playtech launched. Led by Teddy Sagi, it was a company that had very serious intentions of making dramatic inroads into every aspect of online gambling, and they invested some huge amounts of cash, time and effort in ensuring that dream as to become a reality.
Playtech launched their very first online casinos in that year and actually managed to attract casino operators who had been using Microgaming’s products to use Playtech’s and as such during the next year or two we saw many companies ditching Microgaming’s software and re-opening their casinos using Playtech’s software instead.
More Countries Embrace Internet Gambling
In and around May of 2000 both Gibraltar and the Isle of Man managed to put into place a framework that allowed their respective Government departments to both regulate online casinos and offer gambling licenses too
As those two countries were deemed to be a little more respectable in some people’s eyes than Antigua and Barbuda, quite a number of gambling site operators chose to move their operations there.
Attracted by low taxes and licensing fees and with the air of respectability offered by those two jurisdictions more and more gambling site operators have chosen to relocate and/or operate from their shores.
Live Casino Games
Believe it or not there had been attempts at launching live casino games back in the late 1990s, however with internet speeds back then being painfully slow those types of games never became a reality.
However, it was in 2003 that Playtech managed to achieve something no other casino software developer had achieved, and that was to launch a live gaming platform that allowed players to place bets and wagers on real life gaming tables based in brick and mortar casinos remotely from their own home.
Players could then sit back and watch via a live video link up to those land based venues as the games they had placed bets and wagers on were then played out before their very eyes.
The games initially launched included both Blackjack and Roulette, however nowadays you are going to find plenty of additional games including casino poker based games and Baccarat too can be played via a live gaming platform.
The Mobile Gambling Revolution
It was in 2005, after many years of research and devolvement that Microgaming finally managed to launch a mobile gaming platform that would allow players to play a small and select number of their established casino games on their mobile and cell phones.
If you can remember the handsets that were available back then, you would realise that to achieve a mobile gaming platform that could handle real money wagers was quite an achievement, as apps were not even on the horizon back then!
Players would access the games via a Java driven platform, and as the years slowly ticked by and as handsets became more and more advanced, many other companies jumped onto the mobile gaming bandwagon, and we are now at the stage when it is easy to play whatever game you want to play by simply downloading a casino app onto your smart phone.
Online bingo sites had been available in the years before 2005, however it was during that year that some major advances in regards to bingo software were developed, and many land-based bingo club operators chose to launch their own respective online bingo sites.
Players do of course now have the ability of playing any type of bingo games they enjoy playing via their computers, laptops, mobile and cell phones and even tablet devices.
One thing that you will notice is that many companies that are not famed for bingo do now have their own online and mobile bingo sites, and those companies include TV and Radio Stations, Supermarkets and even Celebrities!
Internet Gambling Prohibition Act
It did become very apparent that due to the popularity of online gambling at both online casinos and online poker sites, that land based brick and mortar casinos and poker rooms were going to suffer something of a downturn in income.
Instead of embracing online gambling in general, one country decided that the best course of action would be to try and ban it. This was the USA.
In 2006 the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed into US law, and whilst that did not ban players from gambling online, what it did do was to force banking institutions from allowing them to send payments into gambling sites, via credit or debit cards or wires.
However, whilst some casino software suppliers did then require their licensees to stop accepting US based players from playing at sites using their software and gambling platforms, other companies simply turned a blind eye.
As such players based in the USA could still gamble at many gaming sites, and the financial processors at those sites simply coded gambling transactions as general retail transactions, which allowed them to bypass the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act!
Online sports betting has been around just as long as all other forms of gambling however it was around 2008 that major advancements were introduced on many Sportsbooks.
Gamblers can now not only place their bets and wagers online but by using a mobile device, but can also sit back and watch many of the sporting events they have placed a wager on via the online or mobile betting sites they have placed their wagers at, who often stream the footage live.
Whilst it is hard to predict what the future of online gambling might hold, several things are going to be guaranteed. We are likely to see even more game developers launching a range of brand new and never seen before games, and more and more countries will finally get around to making online gambling legal within their respective shores.
Many of the gambling commissions and licensing authorities are turning their attention to responsible gambling, and as such you can now set your own gambling limits before you start to gamble online.
Proving that games of chance are completely fair and random is another aspect to gambling online that is taken seriously, with many licensing jurisdictions now demand that all of their license holders prove that their games are fair and random. This even goes to the point where they require them to publish the payout percentages and the house edges of each individual game they offer somewhere on their website.
If you’re new to online gambling, then I advise not to rush into it. Hunt around and compare what each site is offering you, stick to playing at sites that allow you to deposit and play in your own home currency. Also ensure that they offer fast winning payouts and above all else are licensed and regulated too.