Online gambling is big business. Globally, it is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion. For an industry less than 25 years old, the numbers are remarkable.
The maxim states that: necessity is the mother of invention. For online gambling, the innovation of the Internet created a new opportunity; an opportunity exploited by a handful of sharp, savvy, innovators, who realised the potential in this new medium.
The Internet went live on August 6, 1991. EBay and Amazon both launched in 1995; although, it would be 2001 before Amazon made a profit. By 2001, online gambling was a highly profitable, developing, business with scores of operators competing for market share.
With so many entrepreneurs struggling to grab a slice of this lucrative market, it’s hard to spot exactly who the true pioneers were. However, some of us were there when it all began. Here’s our top five guide to the personalities who turned out to be players.
1. The Casino King – Martin Moshal
The exact origins of the first online casino are shrouded in a fog of mystery. Software developers Microgaming now boasts that it ‘developed the world’s first true online casino software in 1994’. This much is true.
But who was behind this innovative vision? The answer is a man called Martin Moshal. Today, the South African businessman has his own scholarship program and is a partner in the venture capital firm Entrée Capital. He is secretive when it comes to his past.
In the mid-1990s, Moshal was one of the founders of Microgaming alongside investor Roger Raatgever; developing online casino software and locking in a wealth of unique patents. In 1998, Microgaming launched the iconic progressive online slot Cash Splash.
The shared jackpot was unique at the time and gave online casino operators the excuse to offer their players a multi-million-pound jackpot. It has paid out more than a billion dollars since then.
2. The Sportsbook Superhero – Ian Sherrington
Meanwhile… as Moshal worked on the casino, computer programming boffin, and keen gambler, Ian Sherrington was developing online gambling software with a Salzburg-based bookmaker called Intertops. It would eventually turn your browser into a bookmaker.
The first online sports bet took place on January 17, 1996. Following this success, Intertops headed to Antigua where the business would become a US-facing sportsbook; tapping into an enormous marketplace. It was the birth of a multi-billion dollar business.
3. The Real Deal – Randy Blumer
Completing the triumvirate of online gambling is online poker. The man credited with dealing out the first deck of virtual cards is former Canadian naval officer Randy Blumer. Blumer took early retirement from the navy to chase a career in online poker.
He created the poker room Planet Poker. Initially free, the first real money game took place on an evening in February 1998. Enough players joined the game to keep it going throughout the night. By the summer of the same year, the site was busy but struggling to cope. Paradise Poker arrived, with better software; followed by Ultimate Bet.
Planet Poker lost the war but it was Blumer – and his vision – that took the initial gamble and will forever hold the nuts.
4. The CEO – Mitch Garber
Remember Intertops? The first online sportsbook that moved to the Caribbean? It was recently qualified lawyer Mitch Garber who saw the potential in the fledgling business of online gambling and helped Intertops set up shop.
Garber was instrumental in making online gambling legitimate and available. He helped with the innovation of online payment processing, he negotiated with regulators, and he was one of the highest paid executives in the world when he became the CEO of PartyGaming.
Since then, Garber hasn’t stopped. He is credited with saving Caesar’s Entertainment as its CEO and is now the chairman at the Cirque de Soleil.
5. Calvyn Ayre
BoDog founder and billionaire Calvyn Ayre is the Hugh Hefner of online gambling. Ayre joined the offshore sportsbook party in 2000. BoDog was one of several brands competing for business. It was Ayre’s marketing flair and strong branding that made all the difference.
Ayre put the dream front and centre. Surrounded by beautiful women, yachts, fast cars, and all the trappings of excess; a Forbes cover success story, living the luxury lifestyle to the full. This wasn’t the smoke-filled high street bookie. This was Internet gambling and Internet gambling was cool.
Today, Ayre is still an entrepreneur. His latest ventures: Bitcoin, real estate, helicopter hire, and venture capital. Watch this space.