An Early History of Online Gambling Sites
Can you recall a time when gambling sites didn't exist? If so, then I assume you also remember a time when there was no Internet. Bookmaking is the second oldest profession. Along with what we all know to be the first, it has been a fixture since the time affordable computers and reliable online service became available. So when was that?
Initially, the internet was funded entirely by the United States government for research, education, and government use; therefore commercial use was prohibited. The commercial Internet started as an alternative in November of 1992, but it still involved many restrictions. It wasn't until May, 1995 that the government dropped the project entirely. This put it into the hands of commercial providers such as MSN and AOL ending the previous restrictions. Thus, the history of gambling sites begins. In this article, we will offer a brief look at the early years.
Quick Look at Our Gambling Site Histories:
Possible First Gambling Sites (1994-1995)
There's some debate whether or notonline gambling sites existed in 1994 or 1995. There were plenty of free play casino games back then; however, there are also a number that claim to have been gambling sites early on. One of these is casino.co.za, which came about in 1994 to service a small number of South African players with online casino games. Deposits and withdrawals were done in cash, so whether real money play ever took place on this website is debatable.
Gaming Club, a legit gambling site launched in 1996, later acquired casino.co.za in order to claim their own history as the first online casino dates back to 1994. Most writers of gambling history omit such casinos and gimmicks from their coverage. We've included it as the debate/claim is still there.
Gambling Sites Start in 1996
As far as a confirmed first, this title most likely belongs to Intertops.com. As you will learn in our article on the history of Intertops, they accepted the first ever online sports bet on January 17, 1996. The company enjoyed first mover advantage much of this year for sports. The only other significant player to enter the market in 1996 was Australian-licensed centrebet.com. Casinos, on the other hand, had considerable competition in 1996.
While there were far too many casino websites launched in 1996 to cover them all, we will mention the major two. The first was a casino named Gaming Club, powered by what would soon become Microgaming. The second was Intercasino, powered by what would soon become Cryptologic.
1996 was a lucky year. Of the six companies mentioned, all are still in business: the two sportsbooks, two casinos, MicroGaming, and Cryptologic, which remain casino software providers. The latter today power a large number of gambling sites.
1997 Gambling Sites
WSEX.com was the most popular gambling site launched in 1997. The site grew popular because the co-founder, Jay Cohen, went on to become the first person ever convicted of violating the United States Federal Wire Act of 1961 for operating a sportsbook where gambling was legal. He operated from Antigua; as a US citizen who took bets from US players, he was found guilty and sentenced to 21 months in prison. He served almost 18 of them before being released in March of 2004.
During his prison stay, there was a huge uproar from the gambling community that Jay Cohen was wrongly imprisoned; as a sign of support, WSEX became one of the most popular online gambling sites. Also after his release, Cohen assisted Antigua in an ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against the United States for their violations of fair trade agreements. However, like the John Mellencamp song says, unfortunately authority always wins. WSEX was once among the most trusted gambling websites in the business. More than a decade after their launch, they began feeling the financial effects of the US legal hassle and fund seizures. Eventually, backed in a corner and in tons of debt they turned rogue. This is for sure one sportsbook to avoid these days, because they are years late on payout requests.
1997 was, however, not a complete bust in the history of gambling sites. Another company that launched was a software provider called Cyberoad. Years earlier, a computer programmer named Calvin Ayre, read an article about bookmaker, Ron Sacco, and decided that the gambling industry was what he wanted to pursue. He had been working on casino software since 1994, and with big competitors the likes of Microgaming and Cryptologic already live, he was in a hurry to get online.
He ended up finding investors for Cyberoad, which completed their software in 1997. Starting early in 1998 they powered gambling sites Grand Prix, Big Book, and Mayan Sports. This company failed and investors lost, but somehow Calvin Ayre acquired the software free and clear. Years later, this was converted into the now popular gambling site, Bodog, which you can read about in our article covering Bovada.lv history.
1998 Gambling Sites
On January 1, 1998, a $3/$6 fixed limit hold'em game was played on PlanetPoker.com marking the birth of real money online poker. First moved advantage was, however, harmed when a faulty Random Number Generator (RNG) allowed computer experts to easily predict opponents' hole cards and what the turn and river would be. With this information exposed, even with future endorsements from Mike Caro and Roy Cooke, this poker site never picked up much steam. All the poker sites launched in the 1990's are now either on a network, closed, or don't accept real money players. These sites more or less paved the way for poker rooms like PartyPoker and PokerStars.com, launched after the millennium. What's interesting is that the 5% rake with a $3.00 cap invented by Planet Poker is still the industry standard today.
Quite interesting is that many of the UK bookmakers showed no signs of interest in embracing the Internet during 1998. As our history of Ladbrokes mentions, they waited all the way until 2000 to come online. The only UK brick and mortar to embrace the Internet in the 1990's is found in our article on William Hill history. UK companies started gambling sites in 1998, the first of which was called BetOnline: now known as BlueSquare. It's important not confuse their history with the history of BetOnline.com. The latter is a US betting site from a more modern era while the former was a UK betting site from 1998.
Outside of poker, 1998 was mostly a year that saw the US facing online betting sites that were popping up like wildflower. Many of these sports betting sites would take the bets, while local agents collected and paid in cash. Many that launched used Western Union for post up. One of the most famous was Diamond Sports International (DSI), later acquired by Bookmaker/BetCRIS. Several others are covered in our history of justbet.cx, websites owned by the credit division of Tradewinds. (As there were literally dozens of others, they cannot all be covered.) The history of sportsbook.com is a must read. These guys were among the first to accept credit card deposits, a move most other sports gambling sites would follow in 1999.
This article is intended to give insight into the origin of gambling sites. We also suggest reading our history of bet365.com (2001) to learn how the company's later recreational betting sites came to be. But if you have time to read only two articles, make it ours on Betfair history and Pinnacle Sports history. These two sites, launched in 2000, would go on to revolutionize the way the entire sports betting market works.
While perhaps in the future we will write about the poker boom of 2003, this is skipping too far ahead right now. If you've stopped and thought about how you can't remember a day when there were no betting sites, you also probably don't remember a day when there was no Internet. The two have gone hand in hand: for as long as there's been an Internet, there's also been Internet gambling. (More to come in future articles.) Take some time to read the articles linked and enjoy the great history of our niche.