How Intertops Got Things Started
Intertops is tough to skip when discussing the history of online gambling sites. In 1983, they were the first to open a legal sportsbook in one country for the purpose of targeting another. In 1996, they launched the first ever online sportsbook followed by the first mobile betting site in 2000. Then in 2003, they became the first gambling site to make sports betting, poker, and casino accessible from a single log-in and centralized player bank. While today their website is a bit old-fashioned, this amazing company has accomplished a great-deal with no footsteps to follow. Below is an account of their history.
An Early Competitor to the German Monopoly
The founder of Intertops started his gambling career in 1982 as an illegal German bookmaker. It seems a bit strange that while legal betting has long existed in Germany, in the 1980's, it was restricted to a state-run monopoly near unbeatable due to a sizeable tax rate that shortened the odds. Illegal bookmakers had no added taxes and therefore could offer more competitive prices. Though a decent idea, legal concerns resulted in the bookmaker moving to the UK in 1983 where he founded Intertops.
From the UK, the business was licensed and initially subject to tax. While not as competitive as back home, the tax was low enough to price better than the German monopoly. Targeting savvy punters who understood the importance of getting the best price, Intertops would receive checks mailed weeks before a wagered event. By 1992, it grew into a toll-free phone-in sportsbook targeting most of the world, but still specializing in football (soccer).
In 1989, an 18-year old university student named Simon Noble took a position in the London office of Intertops as a ticket writer. It turned out this kid had a talent for the business and some incredible marketing ideas, of which management took notice. In 1992, Intertops moved to Austria, and the young man stuck with the company. In 1994, Noble was promoted to management and headed the Internet expansion team. The goal was to become the first ever online sportsbook. We will return to him shortly.
The First Online Sports Bet
On January 17, 1996, a punter from Finland, Jukka Honkavaara, logged onto Intertops.com and staked $50 that Tottenham Hotspur would defeat Hereford United. They did and by a wide margin, 5-1 to be exact. Of course, this was expected as the odds were 1.04, and Mr. Honkavaara profited just $2.00. Far more significant than the two Washington bills is the fact that this wager was the first ever sports bet placed online. This made Intertops.com the first ever Internet sportsbook.
Mobile Betting and All-in-One
Quite often, Ron Sacco of bookmaker.eu is mistakenly credited as being the first bookmaker to move to a new country in order to legally offer sports betting to his home country. Of course, the second of four felony bookmaking convictions that carried a second consecutive 3-year prison sentence proved Ron Sacco's idea wasn't exactly legal. Aside from the fact that D.T. of Intertops was legal, he was also first. Ron Sacco was in 1985 while D.T. was in 1983.
This, plus launching the first ever sportsbook, were only two of Intertops' firsts. In addition, they launched the first ever mobile betting site in 2000; and in 2003, they became the first to offer sports betting, poker, and casino games from the same website log-in and player account bank. The latter came when in 2003, they became the first skin of PartyPoker.
Simon Noble Marketing Genius
While Intertops had first mover advantage from every possible angle, none of this gave them a greater boost than that provided by their man Simon Noble. From writing tickets at age 18 in 1989 to heading up their Internet expansion team in 1994, he'd become their CEO. While serving this role, he generated some amazing ideas. He was best at persuading major media to mention intertops.com. He'd do press releases such as "odds maker intertops.com is predicting gas prices reach…" or "odds maker intertops.com is predicting X wins the next presidential election." Some of these were quite controversial, but he'd get betting odds posted, then nudge the media. We can recall at least a half-dozen times when intertops.com was mentioned in an article featured on the home page of Yahoo, MSN, and other major early Internet portals.
Perhaps due to how easy it was for Noble to get media attention, something got to his head. He attempted some pretty nutty things in his day, but sometimes they actually worked. As one example, in late 2001, he started various marketing skits about how players didn't trust computers and why Internet casino games had a limited future. He then followed up by launching a new casino game wherein the results couldn't be rigged. This was called Moolette: a crazy live game with cows as the dealers. Intertops painted a giant 65-foot roulette wheel on a field and released cows to roam around. The feat was video-streamed and bets were placed on where the next cow plop would land. Entirely sincere, this was more than just a publicity stunt; they actually took bets on the game. Meanwhile, hundreds of forums were filled with comments about how stupid an idea it was, giving Intertops even more exposure.
Executives of other companies knew the worth of Simon Noble. It wasn't long before Intertops was one of the largest betting sites everyone else was attempting to copy. The founder of Bodog, then using the pseudonym Cole Turner, got tabloid gambling911 to report all sorts of made-up stories about his wild escapades in South East Asia shot in Thailand using mostly massage parlor and bargirls as actresses. Foolishly, these guys eventually took it too far. They actually published that Cole had been captured by the Cambodian army while doing mission work. The story actually caused a run on the bank with bettors rushing to cash out now that Bodog's CEO, and perhaps owner, was mostly likely dead. He came out of hiding to explain that his real name was Calvin Ayre and that the past couple years of gambling news was fabricated. This brought plenty of negative press.
Back to Moolette: even if you thought it was a stupid idea, there was no reason to hate it. Even if you did hate it and told others, it was potentially positive press and no doubt exposure. This is one of the reasons Simon Noble was a marketing genius. He used his smarts and often covered serious topics; even these would occasionally find their way into the mainstream media, along with his marketing stunts.
Masters of Retention
In June of 2002, Simon Noble left Intertops to become the CEO of World Wide Tele Sports (WWTS) purchased by Bodog in 2006. He went on to become the Marketing Director of Pinnacle Sports. Our history of Pinnacle Sports touches on the wonders he did with that company, including his invention of the Pinnacle Pulse.
Intertops did, however, have a ton of momentum at the time Noble left. Their addition of a Party Poker skin came in 2003; and then during 2005, the Head of Marketing, Michl Posch, pushed their upcoming 10-year anniversary. The first ever sportsbook was a considerable sell and he helped get the needed press. However, since UIGEA, other than an affiliate program, it doesn't appear that Intertops has been aggressive in recruiting new players.
What Intertops is great at is player retention. There are all sorts of season and tournament-long promos for various leagues and competitions. Reload bonuses are common, as are cash giveaways. Their banking methods are second to none, with many ways to request payouts. In our opinion, this is a great company who pulled off many impressive accomplishments with no footsteps to follow. Considering their main draw is taking care of existing account holders, if you've never had an account here before, it's well worth trying out. Unfortunately, no new US players are being accepted, but players living elsewhere can register and claim a bonus at www.intertops.eu.
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: March 2015