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The gambling industry has been around for a long time now, and its acceleration into a multibillion dollar global enterprise came about only with the emergence of the online casino. It all started with the commercialization of the Internet and parallel technological advancements that allowed operators to create a casino environment online. The first online casino came into existence in 1994 and the story has been one of growth and expansion ever since.
Today we have ventured into areas that no one would have thought possible when InterCasino – the first online casino – was launched in 1994. These include the ability to play in download as well as instant play mode, live dealer casino gaming, mobile casino gambling, and the ability to make payments using cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.
On this page we outline for you the different aspects of online gambling, from where it began, where it is today, and how the future looks for the industry.
1994 was a landmark year in the history of the gambling industry, for a number of reasons. That was the year the government of the United States of America authorized the use of the Internet for commercial purposes. Before that time it was a private project initiated and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The same year that the Internet became available for commercial use 2 other significant events happened. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda looked to legalize some aspects of online gambling by providing operators with a legitimate license. It did this by passing the Free Trade and Processing Act. That was also the year a company called Microgaming set up shop in Malta. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Microgaming is one of the founding leaders of the online casino industry when it comes to online casino software, with a portfolio that comprises:
850+ online casino games
350+ mobile casino games
40+ progressive jackpots
In 1994 the first online casino was established – InterCasino. The casino had reasonably good graphics and animations and was available for download to your computer.
If 1994 was the most significant year for the online casino industry, 1995 was equally important too. In fact all those initial years were, because so many new and revolutionary events played out in those years. CryptoLogic launched operations in 1995, the same year when Microgaming made its first major move by releasing a number of high quality traditional card and table games.
There were three major events in 1996 as well. The first was the emergence of another big player in the online casino software development space – NetEnt from Sweden. NetEnt made an immediate impact with its high quality slots and has since been known as an industry leader whose foremost weapon is a high level of innovation.
The second major event of 1996 was the setting up of an authorized online casino licensing jurisdiction in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake – the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. 1996 was also the year InterCasino accepted its first ever real money bet.
The momentum that the industry gained in the initial years snowballed into an enormous avalanche that brought with it untold riches and profits. From 15 casinos in 1996, the number of casinos shot up to more than 220 by the beginning of 1997.
By the end of 1997 the revenue generated by the industry was a mind-boggling $834 million. 1998 was an eventful year as well, with Microgaming launching its first progressive jackpot that year.
The 700th online casino was launched in May 1999. This was also the year that multi-player gaming came into existence. This was unique as it gave players the leverage to chat online with other players. But when you look at the overall picture, perhaps the biggest event that year was the launch of Playtech. It is now the largest iGaming supplier to trade publicly on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange.
There were other significant milestones along the way as well, like the setting up of the first online poker room in 2000 and the establishment of the first independent standards authority for the industry, eCOGRA, in 2003.
All these positive developments meant only one thing for the casino industry: growth. By 2006, there were over 2,300 online casinos catering to players from across the world. All this growth created a huge market, and also one dark issue: gambling addiction. That was not too huge a problem, however, as the industry took steps to address it by making it mandatory for casinos to inform their players about the need to gamble responsibly and provide tools, tips and guidelines to help them do so.
The boom continued, though, and by 2002, the annual revenue that the industry was generating was over $4.5 billion. The relentless march continued with the arrival of mobile casino gambling and Microgaming launching its mobile casino in 2003 in collaboration with Spin3. Things looked so incredibly bright that Jupiter Research actually forecast revenues for 2009 to cross the $19.3 billion mark.
Of course, there were hurdles along the way as well, and the first big one that shook the industry was, surprisingly, in the country that is home to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas: the United States of America. In 2006, the US government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
This piece of legislation sought to place curbs on the gambling industry by making it unlawful for 'gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.'
The UIGEA did not target the players, of course, and also stayed clear of certain areas of online gambling, such as skill-based games, fantasy games, and legal interstate and intertribal gaming. But it made a huge impact anyway, with most of the leading casino software vendors moving out of the US market. Just a handful stayed back, including Real Time Gaming and BetSoft Gaming. The direct impact was of course on the revenue - the projection of $19.3 billion ended up at about $4.9 billion.
The UIGEA turned out to be a significant blip on the online casino radar, but it remained a blip. The casino industry has been able to get around it by looking out for and penetrating new markets. The advances in technology have helped in a big way – the higher quality of gaming, bigger portfolio of games thanks to the arrival of white label platforms and multi-platform gaming, bigger jackpot payouts, faster withdrawal timeframes, and other features have ensured there is no let-up in sign-ups. Online casinos are aggressively building their player bases with more and more enticing bonuses which sometimes border on the rediculous.
In 2008, the jackpot value touched the $5.5 million mark for the first time. Things continued to get better, and in November a player was able to hit the $11.7 million jackpot offered by NetEnt on its Mega Fortune slot out of the park. The best was yet to come, though, and come it did on 6th October 2015 when Jon Heywood from the UK won a world record payout of approximately €17.8 million while playing Microgaming’s Mega Moolah at Betway online casino.
Another big advance the online casino industry has made in the past decade and a half or so has been mobile casino gambling. It is a very profitable part of the online casino’s industry and is driven by the enormous popularity of mobile devices globally. Other significant contributors to the growth of the industry in today’s times include the rapidly increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the steps towards virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) gaming.
The way forward seems quite exciting for the online casino industry. The future is a mammoth pile of dollars, if you go by a 2016 Jupiter Research study that projects revenues from the industry to scale the $1 trillion mark by 2021. And that number is in itself a jump from the figures from just a few years ago - $37 million in 2014 and $550 billion in 2016.
Of course the mobile casino has a massive role to play in generating that almost-intimidating number because of the enormous levels of penetration that smartphones have been able to achieve worldwide.
The emergence of HTML5 as a strong technology option has brought about a massive improvement in the overall player experience. It has been a big factor in ensuring the exploding popularity of the mobile casino.
The technology gives you equal number of games in the download and instant play formats, fantastic quality of graphics and animations, responsive interface for mobile casinos, and much more. In fact, industry leaders like NetEnt have junked the download option with the development of games on this platform.
So what are the things that will likely happen for the online casino industry in the near future? It will expand and grow for sure, but what will aid this are things like an even better gaming experience, the development of high speed payment systems, an increasing move towards cryptocurrency payments, and more.
Here are a few things that are already on the horizon that are likely to shape the future of the online casino industry:
The emergence of white label gaming platforms is one of the big changes that you see at online and mobile casinos today. Online casinos no longer are mandatorily driven by software from a single provider; they have the option of getting the best games from multiple industry leaders thanks to the arrival of multi-platform gaming. And you get them on desktop casinos as well as mobile casinos.
Another bright light to shine on the future on the online casino is virtual reality (VR) gaming. The use of VR technology allows players to feel the vibe of being at an actual land-based casino and, not just that, do all those things that you would ideally do when you are at one of them – walk around, check out the machines and tables, have a drink, and more.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) has been another big step forward towards making gaming fair and secure at online and mobile casinos. Operators can use AI to create a completely personalized experience for players by collecting, analyzing, and then using the data it has gleaned about the player based on his time at the casino. The biggest plus would be its ability to help identify problem gamblers based on their play and wagering patterns even before they actually get affected.
Another fast-moving segment that is now part of the online casino industry is social media gaming. the huge popularity that social media enjoys today makes it the most natural alternative platform for online casinos to ply their games. Social media gaming is no longer an abstraction; it is a reality that is making a big splash and drawing players in large numbers.