While gambling dates back to thousands of years back in our history, it wasn’t until the middle ages when it was revolutionised by regulated casinos. Opened back in 1638 and named Kasyno di Venezia, the first casino in the world was situated in Italy. Soon, it set standards for other countries that wanted a piece of the pie as well. It started to be a particularly lucrative industry in the 18th century when casinos gained a bit of traction with luxurious establishments founded in Monte Carlo.
Soon enough, it has spread across the pond, to the developing country of the USA. At the beginning of the 20th century, Vegas started to build its gambling empire and has soon become the worldwide capital of gambling. With the introduction and the development of the internet, we’ve soon witnessed another form of casinos. Online casinos only make up a small chunk of gambling history, but it is nonetheless quite interesting how it all came to be. The industry right now, especially due to the pandemic, is likely to outrun traditional brick ‘n’ mortar casinos. Here’s a brief history of online gambling, from the 90s until the present days.
First online casinos
The first software that was capable of providing gambling online was developed by Microgaming, an Isle of Man-based company back in 1994. The first country to do something about online casinos was Antigua & Barbuda. They passed a The Free Trade & Processing Act that allowed online casinos to acquire licenses.
Soon after, with safe internet payments introduced, the first online casinos began to open. While they have opened that same year, it wasn’t until 1996, when a provider going by the name of InterCasino has accepted the first real-money wager. With a small offer of only 18 games, InterCasino was the one to set standards for future platforms. While it used to be fairly small, the company is right now one of the biggest players in the industry.
1996 was an important year for online gambling services with the establishment of the Kahnawake Gambling Commission. It was the second organisation whose purpose was the licensing of online casinos. The licensing was supposed to make the service transparent and fully safe for the customer.
Rapid industry growth
It wasn’t long until other aspiring startup founders were caught in the wave of newly emerging online gambling sites. Still unregulated by specific countries, the industry began growing rapidly and 200 websites were offering gambling services by 1997. A 1998 report by Frost & Sullivan noted that the industry’s revenue exceeded $830 million. It was also the year when the first online poker rooms were introduced for players, but it wasn’t until 1999 when you could actually play with other people.
War on online gambling
Constant lawsuits were issued against online gambling providers. In 1999, the USA introduced the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which resulted in quite a stir in the industry. It was to prohibit anyone to offer online gambling services to US citizens. Fortunately for the providers, it didn’t stick and soon enough it was voted off. The Australian government, on the other hand, has passed a bill stating that no online gambling service opened before May of 2000 could legally operate in Australia. That meant that only one organisation was able to successfully operate in the land down under. Still, casino sites couldn’t offer their service to Australian citizens.
Even though efforts to slow down the growth of the online gambling industry were strong, the authorities couldn’t cope with the amazingly fast popularisation of this practice. In 2001, the number of players exceeded 8 million worldwide. By 2002, the market was worth $4.5 billion.
The UK as the first major country to regulate online gambling
Even with further bills and acts aiming to harm the online casino industry being introduced each year, the growth was impossible to stop. Businesses were being fined for gambling ads. But in 2007, there was a considerable shift. The United Kingdom passed The Gambling Act, allowing for the regulation and legalisation of online casinos. This was one of the first major movements in terms of attempting to regulate the market.
Soon, after 2010, when mobile devices started gaining traction, mobile gambling applications were popularised. They’d allow gamblers to play anywhere they wanted, as long as they had access to the world wide web. The industry has grown considerably due to the fact that, now, there were far more possibilities for gamblers. In an instant, it got more convenient and comfortable and there happened a major surge in popularity of online gambling. At the time, the legislation was unclear, and each country had a different set of rules that governed online casinos. Some were completely against that, such as Norway, others, like Finland had a governing body that centrally regulated the providers.
Introduction of Bitcoin
Even though the beginnings of Bitcoin date back to 2009, it wasn’t until 2014 when it first found its way into the online gambling business. Based on blockchain, it offered a new set of assets. Things like anonymity, complete security and far quicker withdrawals became possible. More and more casinos started to offer a Bitcoin payment method, and soon enough, it became quite popular. During that time, in 2015, a jackpot record in Microgaming’s Mega Moolah was broken, setting the highest prize ever won at €17.9 million.
Nowadays, mostly due to the pandemic, the industry has grown substantially, increasing its revenue to a staggering $66.7 billion. By 2027, it’s expected to double its value. Things like live gambling, various cryptocurrency payments, and even VR have become available for gamblers. Gambling is one of the most popular pastime activities. In fact, more than a quarter of the overall population gambles regularly. More than a half gambles once a year. These are huge numbers. Right now, online sports betting is by far the most popular gambling activity, making more than 40% of the European gambling revenue. Online gambling is set to get ahead of land-based casinos, as currently, these only operate at limited capacity.