By CasinoHorse・29. May 2020
Online gambling is a multi-billion-pound industry. In the UK alone, the gambling sector is worth over £15 billion. It has nearly doubled in the last decade, with most of this growth attributed to online gambling. Everyone wants a piece of the action, but as this industry continues on its phenomenal ascent, it’s worth looking back at its origins and seeing how all of this started.
History isn’t always transparent. A lot of the things you think are accepted as fact are highly debated by scholars, as we don’t have the information needed to paint a complete picture. You’d think that this wouldn’t apply to modern history, considering how much of our daily activities are recorded, but believe it or not, this problem persists. It’s something that has arisen many times with regards to online casinos. Some claim that Microgaming launched the very first online casino back in 1994. While others state that the first casino was founded two years later using Cryptologic software and some believe that NetEnt got there first. So, who is telling the truth? It’s actually all true, to an extent. Microgaming created the first online gambling software in 1994. Still, the web was completely different back then, and the lack of regulators, licenses, and common online gambling laws meant that nothing materialised. In 1996, InterCasino was launched using the Cryptologic platform. By this time, Microgaming was honing its skills, NetEnt was getting in on the act, and companies were looking to InterCasino to see if this new industry would flourish. Back then, Cryptologic had fewer than 20 casino games, the software had to be downloaded, and the average internet user had a dial-up modern offering speeds of just 28kbps. To put that into perspective, if you wanted to download a file of 1GB (assuming you had the hard-drive capable of storing it) you would need to leave your computer on for over 3 weeks. Today, that file could be downloaded in just over 30 minutes on the average high-speed connection. To account for this, early internet games were barebones, lagged like crazy, and were prone to crashing.
In 1998, Microgaming was in full swing and quickly becoming one of the most sought-after iGaming brands in the world. This is the year in which it launched Cash Splash, the very first progressive jackpot slot. Cash Splash is still available on many online casinos, and while it pales in comparison to modern slots, it looks impressive for a game that is over two decades old! By the early 2000s, internet speeds had picked up, the average connection speed had doubled, and the internet had grown from something used exclusively by computer experts to something found in many homes. More online slots were released, more casinos were launched, and a multitude of online casino developers decided to throw their hats into the ring. Betsoft and Playtech were both founded in 1999, followed by Blueprint Gaming in 2001. In these early days, online gambling was so new that governments didn’t really know what to do about it. Gambling sites would acquire licenses from Caribbean nations and then offer their services everywhere from the UK to the US.
2006 was a huge year for online casino gambling and for online gambling in general. This was the year in which the US government decided that enough was enough and clamped down on this popular pastime. The same happened in Russia, which was another big blow to the industry, but 2006 was also the year in which Mega Moolah was launched. The following ten years or so witnessed the growth of online poker and experienced a revolution in online gambling. By 2010, every offline casino, sportsbook, and bingo brand had an online website, and many gave up on their offline enterprises to focus entirely on the virtual world. The vast majority of players now had access to high-speed internet connections, casinos could be accessed directly through web browsers, and security had tightened up, turning the online gambling industry into one of the safest in the world.
The most recent revolution in the online gambling sector was also one of the most important. The era of mobile casinos technically began in 2007, with the launch of the iPhone. Still, it would take another few years for iGaming developers to start creating commercial games for mobile users. Developers had experimented with mobile gaming before then. Playtech had created a platform even before the iPhone. Still, these offers were primitive as mobile users were few and far between, and when the demand isn’t there, no one cares about the supply. By 2013, smartphones began to outsell traditional mobile phones, with over 1 billion shipped over the year. At this point, developers began to take heed, and while a few casinos continued to bury their heads in the sand and wait for this “trend” to pass, most rushed to make their sites compatible with mobile devices. Just a year later, mobile internet users began to outnumber desktop users, and this trend was also seen across the online gambling industry. A new revolution was upon us, and all the companies that had anticipated it was able to reap the rewards, attracting vast numbers of mobile players. As for those who rejected this trend or failed to capitalise in time, many of them struggled to keep up and saw a considerable drop in player numbers.
A lot has happened throughout online gambling’s history. Still, despite all those changes and all that drama, it’s worth remembering that its history has been concise. It took just 18 years to go from the very first real money wager on a slow, basic, laggy casino to a point where billions of wagers were being placed every day on high-speed mobile devices. Who knows what will happen in the next 18 years? Will casinos become even more immersive, will we see trends that lean towards VR and 3D, or will the advancements focus purely on speed and ease-of-access? Only time will tell, but we can’t wait to find out.