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 was the first, it has been fixture on the internet since the time affordable computers and reliable internet service became available. So when was that?
Well initially the internet was funded entirely by the United States government and was for research, education and government uses and therefore commercial use was prohibited. Commercial internet started as an alternative in November 1992, but still had many restrictions. It wasn't until May 1995 that the government dropped the project entirely. This put the internet into the hands of commercial providers such as MSN and AOL ending the previous restrictions on commercial use. This is when the history of gambling sites begins. In this article I'll cover a brief look at the first few years.
Quick Look at Our Gambling Site Histories:
Possible First Gambling Sites (1994-1995)
There's some debate whether or not online 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. One of these is casino.co.za. This website came about in 1994, and claims to have serviced a small number of South African players with online casino games. Deposits and withdrawals were done ins cash, so whether real money play ever took place on this website is debatable. Gaming Club which a legit gambling site launched in 1996, later acquired casino.co.za, in order to claim their own history dated to 1994 as the first online casino. Most writers of gambling history would omit such casinos and gimmicks from their coverage. We've included it as that 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 can learn in our article on the history of Intertops they accepted the first ever online sports bet on January 17, 1996. Interops 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 much competition in 1996.
While there were far too many casino websites launched in 1996 to cover these, I'll mention the most significant 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. That's the two sportsbooks, two casinos and 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. This site grew popular because their co-founder Jay Cohen went on to be the first person ever convicted of violating the United States Federal Wire Act of 1961 for operating a sportsbooks where gambling was legal. He operated from Antigua but as US citizen who took bets from US players was found guilty. He sentenced to 21 months in prison, serving almost 18 before his release in March 2004.
During his prison stay, there was huge uproar from the gambling community that Jay Cohen was wrongly imprisoned and 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 Origination (WTO) complaint against the United States for their violations of fair trade agreements. However like the John Mellencamp song tells, unfortunately authority always wins. WSEX was once one of the most trusted gambling websites in the business. More than a decade after their launch they began feeling the financial effects, US legal hassle and fund seizures. Eventually backed up in a corner and in ton of debt they turned rogue. This is for sure a sportsbook to avoid these days, as they are years late on payout requests.
1997 is however not a complete bust in the history of gambling sites. Another company that launched in 1997 was a software provider called Cyberoad. Years earlier a computer programmer named Calvin Ayre, read an article about bookmaker Ron Sacco and decided the gambling industry was what he wanted to do. He had been working on casino software since 1994, and with now big competitors to likes of Microgaming and Cryptologic live he was in a hurry to get online. He ended raising investors for Cyberoad which completed their software in 1997 and then starting early 1998 power gambling sites Grand Prix, Big Book and Mayan Sports. This company failed, investors lost but somehow Calvin Ayre acquired the software free and clear. This was years later converted into the now popular gambling site Bodog, which you can read about in our article covering Bovada.lv history.
1998 Gambling Sites
January 1, 1998 a $3/$6 fixed limit holdem game was played on PlanetPoker.com marking the birth of real money online poker. First moved advantage was however harmed when 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 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 which launched after millennium. What's interesting is the 5% rake with a $3.00 cap that Planet Poker invented 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 to 2000 to come online. The only UK brick and mortar to embrace the internet in the 1990's you can read about in our article on William Hill History. There was however UK companies starting gambling sites in 1998, the first of which was called BetOnline and is 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 poker, 1998 was mostly a year that seen US facing online betting sites popup like wildflower. Many of these sports betting sites were merely sites that would take the bets, while local agents collected and paid in cash. There was however many that launched using Western Union for post up. One of the famous was Diamond Sports International (DSI) which was later acquired by Bookmaker/BetCRIS. Several others are covered in our history of justbet.cx. These were websites owned by the credit division of Tradewinds. While there were literally dozens of others worth covering, the history of sportsbook.com is a near a must read. These guys were one of the first to start accepting credit card deposits, a move most other sports gambling sites would follow in 1999.
This article was intended to give an insight into how gambling sites were started. I do also suggest reading our history of bet365.com (2001) to learn about the company most recreational betting sites would later model came to be. But if you time to read just 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 worked. While perhaps in the future I'll write about the poker boom of 2003, this is skipping too far ahead for now. Consider this, if you've stopped and thought about how can't remember a day when there were no betting sites, can you also remember a day when there was no internet? The two have gone hand and 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 our niche has.