According to estimates, 51% of the world’s population partakes in gambling. Business consulting firm Grand View Research predicts that the global online market will reach a size of $127 billion by 2027, growing at an annual rate of 11.5%. Contributing factors to why this market will gain traction include the freemium model and widespread internet/smartphone penetration. The latter is what fueled this sector’s unprecedented growth.
The American Gaming Association now predicts that there are over 2,800 gambling sites on the internet, making it hard for casual users to know which one to pick. Interactive gaming info hubs such as onlinecasinos.com.sg do a fine job of summing up all the essential aspects of premium online casinos, rendering verdicts on which sites you should consider and what to avoid. They also have blog posts that detail the rise of these platforms. Below we will try to do an adequate job of encapsulating how this industry came into existence and how it expanded to its current size.
The Start of the Online Casino Industry
As most tech enthusiasts are aware, the internet became publicly available in August of 1991, changing the world forever. People in the gambling industry almost instantly saw its potential. However, given its novelty, there were no countries back then that regulated remote gambling. That all changed in 1994 when the sovereign island of Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade & Processing Act. It allowed companies to receive approval to run online gambling businesses from this Caribbean nation.
That same year (1994), a company that would pioneer this industry would get founded in the Isle of Man, Microgaming. However, what is unique about this sphere is that there is little available information about company ownership and roots dating from this period. At that time, these entities were private businesses operating in a niche sector. Thus, the waters are a bit muddy when it comes to who created what first. As far as most interactive gaming historians can tell, Microgaming was the company behind the first online casino software installed on its Gaming Club website. Canada’s Starnet Communications also began providing internet gambling software in 1994, as did Swedish-based developer BossMedia.
Note that does not mean that these companies were responsible for the first real money gambling sites. Those platforms came onto the scene with the development of an encrypted communication protocol, which allowed for secure online monetary transfers. Toronto-based Cryptologic, founded by brothers Andrew and Mark Rivkin, was the one who first made this technology possible. It launched the first online casino, InterCasino, in November of 1996 from Antiqua.
The Rise of Live Casinos
Naturally, due to dial-up internet being the most prevalent way to connect to the world wide web, streaming video in decent quality was an impossibility in the 1990s. In 2003, UK gaming giant Playtech, at age four, took the plunge to explore the video croupier format by establishing the first live casino. Three years after Playtech made their move, Microgaming followed suit, and a new contender emerged, Riga-based Evolution Gaming. The latter first partnered with third-party providers before building its studio in 2009. Over the years, it has opened multiple ones in many countries across Europe and North America and dominates this market by offering over 700 live tables.
Swedish provider NetEnt also had a foray into this industry sector. Though it never scaled up due to it getting bought out by Evolution in 2020, which has also acquired several other live providers.
Playtech is still contending in the live dealer segment, with attempts to break through into the US market. In 2017, it signed the most massive content deal in iGaming history with Warner Brothers and opened the largest casino studio in Riga, Latvia. Even though Evolution dominates the live dealer landscape, many slot providers are still pivoting to this industry segment. Malta-based Pragmatic Play is the latest addition to the world’s live casino roster.
What the Future Holds
Many believe that virtual reality and blockchain technology hold the keys to the rise of the online casino sphere. In 2016, Microgaming unsuccessfully attempted to bring virtual roulette into its fold. Five years later, providers are still not giving up on this technology, as NetEnt recently released a VR version of one of their most popular slots ever, Gonzo’s Quest. More may be on the way.
In 2013, the first crypto gambling site appeared. Today, hundreds of such platforms only accept digital money, many of which operate without a license. In an attempt to attract new demographics, regular fiat platforms have also embraced the crypto trend. However, unlike their crypto-exclusive counterparts, these do not offer provably fair games. These are titles where players can verify the randomness of game outcomes. Thus, their absence makes regular online casinos less appealing to the hardcore crypto crowd.
In March of this year, news broke that famous video game developer Atari had acquired a two-year lease in Decentraland’s Vegas District to open the world’s first virtual casino. Decentraland is a digital world running on the Ethereumm blockchain, akin to an expansive RPG. Meaning, users can freely explore it and interact/transact with each other using fungible and non-fungible tokens. Atari’s virtual venue should open its doors in May of this year, and it will be an experiment that can lay the groundwork for how future gambling platforms will look like, taking VR gaming to an entirely new level.