In darkened rooms, hunched in the blue glow of a computer screen, the anonymous programmer can craft software that will change the world. Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Jeff Bezos; you may not know every name in that list but you will definitely know the software they wrote. (for the record: Windows, Google, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon)
The history of online betting is not a secret. In the 1990s, geeks, gamblers, and geeky gamblers wrote the code that would create an industry now anticipated to generate global revenues of more than $74 billion by 2023.
In the early days, take up was fairly slow in markets where betting was already regulated and legal. Scepticism was rife and players were wary about making online financial transactions. Trust and security were major issues.
In the heavily regulated US, players were happier to take the risk. They could finally back their favourite football teams, without having to deal with the criminal element. This penetration was very profitable. The US market was the proof in the pudding.
So, who were the online betting legends? The pioneers who paved the way. Here are some of the MVPs who gambled and won.
Sportsbook: From Austria with Love
In the mid 1990s, Intertops was a small Austrian betting company offering a pools coupon service to players across the border in Germany. Computer programmer and occasional gambler Ian Sherrington approached the owner of Intertops Detlef Train with an idea to launch an Internet betting platform.
With the support of up and coming marketing whiz kid Simon Noble, Intertops set up offices in Antigua. The small Caribbean island had passed a Free Trade and Processing Act in 1994 to grant licenses to offshore bookmakers and encourage investment.
On January 17, 1996, Sherrington and Noble accepted the first ever online sports bet: $50 that Tottenham Hotspur would defeat Hereford United from Finnish gambler Jukka Honkavaara. He won the bet and the rest is history.
Intertops was a mainly US facing operation. In the UK, betting was still offline. None of the major players were that interested initially. The US regulators were slow to react to the new medium of the Internet and used the 1964 Wire Act to try and suppress it – with mixed results.
Casino: When Micro Means Big
Online casino game developer Microgaming is famously quite secretive about its history. The company was founded in 1994 by an entrepreneur from Durban, in South Africa, called Martin Moshal. Moshal set up his business on the Isle of Man and created the first online casino.
In 1998, Microgaming debuted the online slot Cash Splash. Although a relatively unremarkable game, it was the first online progressive jackpot slot. It took a small payment, from everyone enjoying the game at any online casino, to seed giant jackpots. It’s a much-copied formula that is still at the heart of many online casinos today.
Microgaming was once behind the software powering more than a third of all online casinos. It’s still a major player but its founder Moshal has left to pursue more philanthropic pursuits, including the Moshal Scholarship Program which supports young entrepreneurs.
Poker: Top Table Players
The early history of online poker is murky at best. There are three key brands: Planet Poker, Paradise Poker, and Party Poker. The people behind the brands kept their cards close to their chest (no pun intended). The legality of online poker in the US – its main market – was still grey.
Planet Poker, founded by Canadian Randy Blumer, developed the software but it was glitchy and couldn’t handle high volume traffic. The first ever online poker game was played on January 1, 1998. Punters were lining up to play but Planet kept crashing. In the wings was Paradise Poker. They learned from Planet’s mistakes and, by 2000, became the biggest card room on the planet.
In 2003, Party Poker took online poker to the next level, with million pound tournaments and a huge marketing spend. The business and its developers finely tuned the poker software and made poker the world’s #1 card game.
They may not be household names but there are some of the biggest names in the online betting business. Nearly all gone but not forgotten.