The history of online gambling is almost as long as the history of the internet itself. The first sites appeared in the early 1990s and the first online casino dates back to around 1994.
With many industries moving online, it seemed natural that gambling would be among the first. The gambling business model was particularly easy to digitise while minimising costs and risks to the site owner.
Advances in software development made it increasingly easy for developers to create new gaming websites. Meanwhile, changes in legislation made it possible to register businesses in offshore jurisdictions, such as Antigua and Barbuda, to take advantage of their digital gambling licensing laws.
Meanwhile, on the Isle of Man, a technology company called Microgaming was developing the software needed to run an online casino. They launched the earliest functional casino online, The Gaming Club, allowing gamers to recreate the fun of gambling on their home computers.
Some of the other early online gambling sites include:
- Planet Poker
- Paradise Poker
- Party Poker
Microgaming went on to be a hugely successful company which still runs online casino sites. But scandals among some of their competitors meant that the public couldn’t have confidence in all of these, for example, there was evidence of accounts cheating on sites such as Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet.
Between 1996 and 1997, the number of online gambling sites increased from just 15 to around 200. But most of the earliest online casinos are just memories today, and this is largely because of the way that the industry is now regulated.
Technological advances in online gaming
Online poker entered the arena in the late 1990s and this ancient card game went digital for the first time in 1998. The first game of online poker involving real money was a hand of Texas Hold ‘em that was played on January 1, 1998 with stakes of $3/$6.
While the market for casinos, poker and sports betting was growing exponentially, the technology simply couldn’t keep up. The early days of online gambling were beset with server problems and regular crashes as thousands of people tried to access sites designed with only tens or hundreds of players in mind.
However, the external regulation and auditing that the industry needed to ensure good conduct from all operators was not yet in place. Increasing oversight from the authorities meant that many of the more basic websites simply weren’t fit for purpose and a large number folded.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 outlawed online poker for most US players except for those in New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Sports and casino betting is still allowed though, unlike these countries where all forms of online gambling are illegal:
- North Korea
- United Arab Emirates
Many other countries have introduced more detailed legislation to ensure that the online gaming industry is properly regulated. There is also an increased awareness of the issues surrounding problem gambling, and numerous countries have programmes designed to support those who are addicted to gambling.
Malta’s vital role in online gambling
One such country is Malta, where the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) has overseen all gambling activity on the island since the late 1990s. It was established in order to safeguard the rights of players, provide safe physical and digital environments and prevent crime.
The MGA’s remit includes a responsibility for players and the regulation and licensing of gaming operators. Their activities include:
- Monitoring gaming activity
- Conducting research related to the gaming industry
- Protecting minors and vulnerable individuals
- Upholding the rights of players
- Conducting investigations
- Collaborating internationally with other gaming authorities and law enforcement agencies
This approach to gambling, both on and offline, has earned Malta an excellent reputation on the global gambling scene. The MGA contributes to national and international efforts to collect data on suspicious activity, gathering intelligence and liaison with international regulators.
The Sports Integrity Unit works to combat the manipulation of sporting competitions by investigating suspicious betting activity. They also collaborate with a number of sporting authorities including the International Olympic Committee, the International Cricket Council, The International Betting Integrity Association and the Esports Integrity Coalition.
The MGA keeps a close eye on the activities of the online gambling sites in its jurisdiction to ensure that all games are being run in accordance with the law. They also require their licencees to monitor the gambling patterns of their players so they can intervene when problematic behaviour is identified.
The Maltese approach to gambling regulation has made it a hugely successful gambling hub. Better performing companies are offered favourable tax rates to encourage companies to grow and innovate. Tax rates due on income from local players are higher to encourage operators to target international markets.
These favourable conditions are the reason that so many online casinos are based in Malta, but they are also fostering an innovative multi-cultural environment that encourages businesses to share ideas with a wealth of vital resources enabling them to build the future together.
Disclaimer: Play responsibly. Players must be over 18. For help visit https://www.gamcare.org.uk/.