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How did online casinos first become popular as an industry?

Recently, online casinos have taken the world by storm with more and more nations now allowing this form of gambling. Referred to as iGaming, the activities made available at online casinos are nearly identical to those at traditional physical casinos. The only difference is that you can enjoy them without leaving the house. In this article, we’ll discuss how online casinos first came about and what has allowed them to become so popular.

Casinos and gambling: A brief history

The popularity of online casinos has grown exponentially. You can’t move around the internet without seeing articles listing the top 10 online casinos or new slot releases, but this wasn’t always the case.

Gambling as an activity, however, has been around for a very long time. There is evidence that it has been enjoyed since the Roman Empire, but it was the Wild West that really brought gambling games into the mainstream.

The 1990s: The dawn of the internet

As soon as the internet became more commonplace, people were looking at its different uses. The gambling industry became one of the first industries to move online. Online casinos began launching in the mid-1990s, which is astonishing when you think about how few people had internet access in those days.

Compared to the standards today, the games themselves were crude. However, they worked well for the era. As you can imagine, this time was pretty unregulated, as new as it was.

The Free Trade and Processing Act 1994

These days, licensing is one of the first things people look for when searching for a new online casino. The casino’s license matters. When online casinos first started, it took a while for regulations to catch up. The first license for online casinos was introduced in Antigua and Barbuda in 1994. This happened thanks to the Free Trade and Processing Act. As such, 1994 is seen as the start of the big rise in online gambling.

Microgaming arrives

You’d be hard-pressed to find an online casino player who has never heard of the iGaming software giant Microgaming. This software developer began their work in 1994 in the midst of the first boom in online casinos.

When the first online casino was opened in 1994, it was Microgaming that led the way. This casino, called The Gaming Club, is still operational. As you can imagine, however, it has gone through significant changes since its inception.

Online payments became possible

It wasn’t until 1995 that online payments became possible for the first time. This was down to CryptoLogic. This company revolutionised how real money transactions took place over the internet and made it easy for players to bet in real cash.

The first online casino to accept real money bets was InterCasino, an online gambling platform that’s still in existence today. This online casino was launched in Antigua by an Ohio bookmaker named William “Billy” Scott. The first real money bet took place here in 1996.

The creation of progressive jackpots

Progressive jackpots seem to be a new phenomenon. However, the first one to be introduced was Microgaming’s Cash Splash in 1998. It was a classic three-reel slot game with a single payline. The symbols were cherries, 7s and bars. These days, a more modern version of the game exists. It has 15 paylines and five reels. You’ll notice that Cash Splash pays out its jackpot every couple of days.

It wasn’t always easy: Internet gambling bans

Despite the rise in popularity of iGaming and the internet, not all countries have been open to the idea of online gambling. In 1999, the US proposed the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which proposed the banning of internet gambling. Though this bill did get passed by the Senate, the House didn’t pass it. However, in 2006, the SAFE Port Act was introduced. This time, almost all online casinos were prevented from operating in the US, which was a real blow to the industry.

Nowadays, however, more and more states are revising their laws to allow players to experience online casinos.

A generation later

Those of us who grew up alongside the internet, are now reaping the benefits of online casinos and all they have to offer. More and more new online casinos began popping up in the early 2000s. With them, the competition grew and bonuses, loyalty schemes and new games were developed.

Though most people who used online casinos during this time were those who enjoyed real gambling at brick-and-mortar casinos, there has been a rise in people visiting online casinos for their first gambling experiences.

Impact of COVID-19 on online casinos

It wasn’t until physical casinos were forced to close in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic that online casinos saw their biggest boost yet. Google search trends showed that in 2020, search interest in online casinos was at an all-time high.

According to data from the UK Gambling Commission, most gambling (96%) is now done within the home. The niche area of esports gambling has also seen huge growth too, particularly among young males.

The future of online gambling

The activities we engage with at online casinos are constantly evolving. New technologies mean that there is always something new to explore. Most people are pretty certain that virtual reality (VR) will become a mainstay in online casinos. Naturally, you’ll need a VR headset to take part in these online gambling games, but as the technology develops, it’s expected that online casinos will adopt it more and more.

We’ve already seen the initial impact of cryptocurrencies on the online gaming industry. Yet, using cryptocurrencies as online payments is still very niche and not very widespread. However, there’s likely to be a rise in this sort of betting as more and more people begin to understand cryptocurrencies and how they work.

Online casinos have a long and interesting history and their future looks bright

It was almost inevitable that casinos would become popular online. The industry lends itself really well to screen play. Since people were forced to abandon physical casinos amid COVID-19, they got a taste of the online casino world — and they liked it. Could this mean the end of physical casinos for good? Who knows.
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