In 1994 a little-known company in South Africa called Microgaming developed what they claim to be the first real online casino software in the world. Later, Microgaming released the first-ever casino in cyberspace, from which the online gambling industry was born. Since its humble beginnings, the industry has grown exponentially, and online casino technology has evolved with it.
The dawn of an industry
While other companies besides Microgaming might claim to have been the first to create an online casino game, none of them would have been able to do so without the Free Trade and Processing Act, which allowed licensing for online gambling sites. The bill was passed in Antigua and Barbuda in 1994, and later that same year The Gaming Club was released — the first true online gambling website (if you believe Microgaming was indeed first). Microgaming had the first foot in the door, but InterCasino were quick to follow with a website of their own, which launched in 1996.
By 1998 the online gambling industry was becoming very popular. Game developers around the world were releasing new online gambling content at a frenzied pace in order to stay ahead of their competitors. Microgaming stepped it up again, leaving their competitors behind, and hit on another industry first – the online progressive jackpot. Whether they expected it to or not, the release of their online slot game Cash Splash would change the newfound industry forever.
As with their land-based counterparts, online progressive jackpots would pool a portion of every bet together to form the progressive jackpot, which would grow as more spins were played on the online slot game until someone won it. In most virtual slots, the progressive jackpot could only be triggered if a specific combination of symbols appeared on the reels, but some games had different criteria, such as randomly awarding the jackpot to players, but only if you wagered a certain amount, or only being able to win it during bonus mini-games. Having started the industry all those years ago, the introduction of the first progressive jackpot and other developments have helped Microgaming remain one of the biggest companies in online casino software development.
While many online gambling games were being developed at this time, development of new sites was slow because of the relatively simple nature of the internet in the 90s.
Still, some companies recognized the potential growth and popularity of online gambling and couldn’t wait to get on the bandwagon. Intertops was one of the earliest to strike – as a sports betting company that had taken bets over the phone since 1983, they were now poised to adapt to the fast-growing phenomenon that was the internet.
While online slots for real money were the first form of real gambling available at virtual casinos, it was another game that would properly bring the online gambling industry to the masses: online poker.
Poker shines the spotlight on online gambling
By 1998 online casinos were starting to gain more popularity, and the industry was blown open by yet another newcomer to the scene – a little online poker site called Planet Poker.
For almost a year after Planet Poker went live, it was the only game in town. But their success and exclusivity were short-lived, as they had only motivated their competition to introduce similar offerings. By 1999 other poker sites like Party Poker (which would go on to become one of the most popular online gambling sites in the world), Paradise Poker, and PokerStars started cropping up, all aiming to cash in on Planet Poker’s innovation.
By the turn of the century, the popularity of online gambling sites had skyrocketed. As the internet became a staple in people’s households, more players were joining the worldwide community of online gamblers.
In the mid-2000s, online gambling in the US would come under threat due to changes in government policy. The introduction of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 brought in new laws that made it illegal for anyone to accept an online wager from someone who lived in a state where gambling wasn’t legalized. This dramatically limited the number of players who could legally engage in online gambling and still affects the online gambling industry to this day.
Modern online gambling
In the years following the initial boom in the popularity of online casinos, massive numbers of new casinos and games were released. As game developers refined their designs and brought out more and more exciting games, technology moved forward at an alarming rate.
There were now hundreds of virtual casinos with new, beautifully designed games on offer. Whether you wanted to play casino games like online poker, blackjack, slots, or even baccarat, you were sure to find what you wanted.
As their popularity grew, classic casino games were being retrofitted with new features while new games were evolving to suit this new online environment. Free spins, bonus games, and many more enhancements were made possible by the progress in technology and the developer’s ability to implement it.
These days digital slots have all but sidelined their classic ancestors, and the introduction of virtual reality to online poker and blackjack have done the same. New games and software are being released constantly, and big gambling software companies are always trying to outdo each other.
The online gambling industry was, and still is, constantly evolving and transforming to remain as relevant as possible. One of the biggest shifts in the past was the introduction of technology that allowed online casinos to fit in players’ pockets.
Online goes mobile
By the early 2000s, new innovations in mobile internet technology, such as 3G, were starting to change the way we lived our lives and, indeed, the way we wanted to play at an online casino for real money. Technology was starting to appear that would create the foundation necessary for mobile gaming to truly enter the scene, and the online gambling industry was about to realize its true potential.
The United Kingdom took the lead in the adoption of mobile gaming into the gambling industry, when in 2003 having a 3G connection enabled you to use “The Betting Site”. You could place bets right from your phone, with your choice of five different bookmakers. This meant that you could now indulge in online sports betting while you were on the go.
The release of the iPhone in 2007, and the App Store in July of 2008, meant there was no looking back – the way forward was mobile casino games apps. During the first year of the App Store’s release, Texas Hold’em was on the list of the most downloaded iPhone apps. These casino apps took to their new mobile environment even more naturally than they did to computers or laptops. Poker, slots, sportsbooks, anything you wanted to play or bet on could now be carried with you everywhere you went. Even though public Wi-Fi was not so prevalent yet, the possibility existed and as mobile technology moved forward it caught on and changed the way people would gamble forever.