The internet is undeniable one of the most era-defining innovations in human history. The platform has undoubtedly changed how we live our lives by allowing instant access to information, entertainment, money generation opportunities, and communication. Nearly all industries benefit from the internet’s existence, and one that continues to milk its opportunities is the gambling niche.
Despite its checkered nature, online gambling has managed to grow into a behemoth of an industry worth over $66.7 billion and is expected to hit $158 billion by 2028. The industry has quickly overtaken its brick-and-mortar counterpart that has been around for centuries by a large margin in a short period of less than three decades. The sector has its roots in humble beginnings, and its thriving evolution has been contributed to by a collection of significant events.
Online gambling origins trace back to 1994, when three major events took place. First, the World Wide Web was invented, granting the opportunity to deliver and receive a wealth of information in ways that weren’t possible before.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda was the first to recognize the gambling opportunity that came with this new invention and passed the Free Trade & Processing Act. This law allowed companies to establish online casinos and offer gaming services. The first firm to jump on the bandwagon was Microgaming, launched the same year more than 4,000 miles away in the Isle of Man.
Microgaming started its journey with a small team and limited funds. However, this did not deter the software developer from launching the first fully functioning internet casino, Gaming Club, in 1995. The gambling den was nothing like the flashy venues available today, but it still took the world by storm. Gaming Club game players a chance to access casino games on PCs at a time when many were trying to wrap their minds around the concept of the World Wide Web.
This gambling den is still running successfully to date, evolving with the changing needs of each new gambling generation. Over the years, many gaming companies have tried to take credit for opening the first casino. Still, Microgaming cements itself as a true leader in the niche with incredible achievements and innovations under its belt.
1995 also marks the year that Cryptologic broke into the market, another key player in the online gambling industry. The software provider specialized in cash transactions over the internet, a missing piece that was crucial in opening a real money gambling den, something Gaming Club lacked at the time. Cryptologic refined the product and opened InterCasino in 1996, the first-ever real money online casino.
The gambling den is still functional to date. Cryptologic has since shut down, but it holds a special place in the internet gambling hall of fame alongside Microgaming.
Soon after the launch of these two gambling dens, other companies started to invest in the newly established industry. By 1997, over 200 gaming sites had been opened, and their annual revenue was close to a billion dollars.
Over the past two decades, thousands of online casinos have cropped up, offering players unique services that meet different gambling needs. The gambling clubs currently excelling in the field include;
- Video Slots Casino
- Party Casino
- Casino Land
- Royal Valley Casino
- LeoVegas Casino
- Gala Casino
- Yeti Casino
- Slots Magic
- 888 Casino
- 32Red Casino
Bonuses and Promotions
During its establishment, the World Wide Web was a very new concept with nothing similar having existed before. Therefore, people were having a hard time trusting that they could receive the same level of entertainment in internet casinos as they would in location-based options.
The virtual nature of the platform restricted players from physically assessing the venues, making them difficult to trust with real money for games. These doubts persevered even after the assurance that fairness and safety standards were in place. Online casinos abandoned the “build it, and they will come” policy soon after their establishment and incentivized players with bonuses and promotions.
Casino bonuses awarded players with extra funds that boosted their betting times and limits. The boons activated when punters committed real money of their own. In the early 1990s and early 2000s, gambling destinations applied relaxed terms and conditions to charm more gamblers into considering the platform. However, during the mid-2000s, tighter terms were used due to the prevalence of bonus hunting.
Bonus provision has since evolved to become a part of online casino culture, and such packages can be found on every gaming site. Each gambling den has unique incentives on the table, but they mostly fall into popular categories that have cropped up with time, including;
- No deposit bonuses – these rewards do not need a cash deposit to activate, and they often contain a small amount of money, free spins, or free chips. No deposit boons are primarily offered to new punters to provide a taste of what to expect in a gambling den.
- Welcome bonuses – These incentives target new players and activate after making the first cash commitment. Matchups are the most popular kinds of welcome bonuses, and they meet a gambler’s deposits by a specific percentage.
- Reload bonuses – These boons cater to returning clients to keep them indulging in a casino’s business. Match promotions, free spins, cashbacks, and free chips are included in the packages. Reload offers can be linked to specific days or events like birthdays and holidays.
- Loyalty bonuses – These offers reward regular clients for continued business, and they mainly function as a tier system. Players climb the tiers by collecting points awarded when they spend real money on gameplay. These points can be used to achieve VIP status with perks like personal managers and exclusive gifts.
Microgaming wowed the newly established internet gambling industry with the first progressive jackpot featured in the Cash Splash slot machine. The set featured five reels with fifteen bet lines that accepted stakes up to 0.50 credits each. The pooled pot amount was tracked above the grid and was awarded when five slot logos landed on the fifteenth payline. The pokie machine is still operational to date and features in more than 100 Microgaming casinos. The set inspired a new generation of slot entertainment that has since awarded billions in winnings. The highest paying pokies can continue the Cash Splash progressive jackpot legacy include;
- Mega Moolah
Mega Moolah is also a Microgaming pokie released in 2006 and features a simple African savanna theme with lions, giraffes, and other wildlife appearing as characters. The slot game currently holds the title for the highest online casino win of all time, awarded by its Mega jackpot. Joy Heywood, the winner, received a little over €17.87 million in 2016 when the jackpot was triggered. The Mega jackpot responsible for the win seeds at 1,000,000, and the jackpot bonus game activates randomly after any spin. Microgaming has since turned the feature into a slot series with titles like Immortal Romance Mega Moolah, Fortunium Gold Mega Moolah, Atlantean Treasures Mega Moolah, Mega Moolah Goddess, and Juicy Joker Mega Moolah.
- Mega Fortune
Mega Fortune online slot is a NetEnt title with a progressive pot that hardly disappoints. The game’s theme makes the high roller life accessible with yachts, expensive watches, and luxury cars availed as paying icons for stakes up to 50 credits. The pokie features four pooled jackpots, and the largest one, Mega, starts at 1,000,000. This pot is responsible for the second-highest online jackpot win amounting to around €17.86 million.
- Age of the Gods
The Age of the Gods pokie series is Playtech’s take on the progressive jackpot bonus and is arguably among the most famous online pokie collections. Playtech has numerous titles in the collection, including Medusa Monsters, Ruler of the Sky, King of Olympus, Fate Sisters, God of Storms, and Furious Four. These games feature four progressive jackpots: Power, Extra Power, Super Power, and Ultimate Power.
- Hall of Gods
NetEnt delivers another millionaire maker, Hall of Gods, based around the mythical Norse deities. Three pooled pots can be won in the Bonus Game activated by three hammer icons appearing anywhere. The chance of winning the jackpots correlates to the bet and jackpot size.
- Arabian Nights
Arabian Nights by NetEnt retells the tale of Aladdin on five reels with ten play lines. Punters can activate wins of up to 12,000x the placed bet between 0.10 and 200 pennies. The pokie’s main feature is the progressive jackpot that triggers when a combination of five Aladdin characters is created.
WowPot is a jackpot series run by Microgaming appearing in different pokies. Sisters of Oz WowPot, Book of Atem WowPot, and Queen of Alexandria WowPot are some of the titles in the series. Each pokie features four jackpots and the highest one seeds at 2,000,000.
The progression of online gambling naturally moved to sports betting, and the first recorded website offering the service was InterTops, which opened in 1996. The gambling den saw rapid success since sports have many fans looking to place bets on their favorite teams. Within two years, top bookmakers like Ladbrokes and William Hill had broken into the market with their own gaming sets. These websites also adopted bonuses to woo players, but they have gradually decreased over time compared to casino incentives. Sports betting destinations are available today in the thousands, including;
- 888 Sports
- Paddy Power
The Poker Boom
Poker gambling can be traced back to 1998, four years after Microgaming opened the door for internet casino services. Planet Poker was the first venue to offer the service, and it was a massive success. However, it faced several operating issues due to the dial-up internet used to access its services back in the day. Paradise Poker phased out the website in 1999 due to its ability to host thousands of players on its platform daily. Partypoker and PokerStars entered the scene in 2001 and soon after became the most prominent players in the market. PokerStars gained a lot of popularity after the 2003 WSOP when the underdog Chris Moneymaker collected the grand prize of $2 million.
Online poker hit a little snug in 2005 when the United States, one of the niche’s biggest markets, passed the UIGEA law. The Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act declared it illegal for payment channels to transact gambling funds. While the law targeted cashier channels only, it created so much confusion that most gaming sites pulled out of the market or died out ultimately. However, online poker continued running successfully, and active punters continued to double every year until 2007.
The first-ever online gambling regulating body was established in Gibraltar and Isle of Man. The body began offering online sports betting licenses in 2000, just a year before the United Kingdom legalized the industry. Alderney also started granting online gaming permits in 2001 through the Alderney Gaming Control Commission. eCOGRA, the famous independent testing body, cropped up in the United Kingdom in 2003. However, the United Kingdom Gambling Act was not passed until 2005. The online gambling regulations in the UK continue to abide by this law to date. The Malta Gaming Authority and AAMS Italy are some of the licensing firms that have been established since.
Live gambling can be traced back to 2001, when Playtech first launched the services. However, it did not take off well and managed to create a new gap in the sector. Evolution Gaming finally filled the niche with the first fully functional live casino established in 2006. The gaming company offered punters a chance to enjoy real-life gaming experiences streamed from land-based studios. Human dealers ran the games using real cards and tables, and they were limited to cash stakes only. The gambling studio is the live gambling market leader to date and has paved the way for other firms like Ezugi, NetEnt, Portomaso Gaming, and Pragmatic Play to offer similar services.
The online gambling industry is currently focused on delivering mobile gameplay, thanks to the prevalence of smartphones. The option was introduced in 2012, with game developers using iOS, Windows, and Android-compatible software. Today, all online casino games are created to be mobile-friendly.