Online gambling is a part of daily life now in 2021 and for those who were born in the age of the internet, it may seem that it has always been so. However, there’s a bit of history of online gambling that goes some time back and goes hand in hand with the history of the internet itself.

Here we’ll try to explain how online gambling started and at least to some extent what it still owes to its beginnings and how it’s shaped by them, even now when the technology has improved slightly.

How it all started

The history of gambling online starts in the mid-90s since that’s when the internet really took off. Online gambling sites back then didn’t look very much like the modern-day operations we are used to now, but they were enough to draw a crowd.

Most of these online gambling sites were set up in Antiqua and Bermuda because of the local laws that allowed for it. The new industry grew there to the benefit of both the island nation and the players across the world.

The first gambling provider that made a name for itself was Microgaming. It’s still an important company in the industry and it still provides services to gamblers.

History of Online Gambling
History of Online Gambling

Online gambling

An important development in the world of online gambling came in 1996 when Kahnawake Gaming Commission. It was formed by the Indigenous People known as Mohawk Indians at the time. Different rules and regulations applied to Indigenous People when it comes to gambling licenses and this coincided with the appearance of online gambling establishments.

There’s some debate about which companies produced the first online gambling sites. Some claim that it was Microgaming, others that it was InterCasino. It’s possible that InterCasino was first in late 1995 but it was never as popular and established as Gaming Club operated by Microgaming.

After this, there was a huge growth in interest in online gaming and gambling. In 1996 there were 15 gambling sites online, but by 1997 there were more than 200. The annual revenue from these businesses was approaching $1 billion.

Sports betting

Sports betting and online gambling were always a match made in heaven and that’s where the industry first found its user base. The first platform for online sports betting was opened in 1996. It was called InterTops and it became a huge success with many similar sites following it and creating an industry boom.

Top bookmakers such as William Hill and Ladbrokes seized the opportunity and opened their own sites soon after and they too had a large base of users almost right away. The sites offered cash backs and huge bonuses in order to attract new players and at first, that strategy worked.

As the marker become bigger and more mature, these deals stopped or become much less lucrative, so it was good to be there from the ground up. However, there are still more deals and bonuses for sports betting than for other gambling sites.


Betfair was a gambling site that took off in 2000 and become an instant phenomenon. It brought a new spin to sports betting. That’s because it allowed peer-to-peer waging where you bet against another player individually. This was common in betting offline but with Betfair, it found its place on the internet as well.

Two years later Betfair brought another novelty to the industry by introducing live betting. It created another boom with other gambling sites following their lead and finding new players as well.

History of Online Gambling
History of Online Gambling

Online Poker

Poker has always been one of the most popular gambling games out there and it’s no wonder that it has quickly found its place online as well. There are disputes as to what was the first gambling site that introduced it, but most sources say that it was: Planet Poker- a site founded in 1998.

However, the site was rather bad even by the standards of the time and there were many glitches and technical problems. It did lead to the rise of many other similar sites, some of which were technically superior and brought in new players.

PartyPoker and Poker Stars were the two most famous online poker sites in the early 2000s. An especially exciting tournament took place in 2003 when a player qualified for WSOP Main Event and started at a Poker Stars site with a $40 wager. The amateur player ended up with over $10 million in winnings.

Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act

Even though online gambling was rather popular, legally it was in uncharted waters. After a while, the government took notice and decided to regulate the field for the first time. That’s why the Unlawful internet gaming enforcement act was put to a vote in 1996. The law made it illegal to withdraw or deposit money to online gambling sites.

Many sites decided to shut down due to the law. Some tried to serve US players regardless of the laws and this included: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker. The last big crackdown in 2011 stopped these and effectively ended the era. The event is known as Black Friday in the online gambling world.

Recently, some states tried to change their regulations in regards to online gambling. Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey will be amongst the first to do so.  That way the US will be able to compete with offshore gambling zones.

The Future

Online gambling has a future and it’s going to be just as exciting as these early years. The technology has changed and developed and almost everyone now has a phone with which they can gamble online and access gambling sites and apps with players across the world.

Some countries are also developing this industry with purpose and with the goal of attracting international players. All of this is to say that online gambling is here to stay and so are the most popular games that have been played for decades, while the technology changed and adapted around them.