Gambling may be an activity as old as civilisation itself, but online gambling has only been possible for a for a quarter of a century and already generates an estimated $50 billion per year. It continues to be a significant growth industry and with analysts predicting the industry will expand by more than ten per cent a year over the next five years, the few would bet against the industry’s continued success.

The online gambling industry may be growing rapidly today, but the sector had a number of early problems that stalled growth, from slow internet to legal limbo. This is the story of how online gambling has grown into the behemoth it has now become.

The US had an early lead

As with many online industries, some of the first household name online gambling firms were launched in the US. The 2000s seeing the rapid rise of a handful of online poker sites and associated million-dollar tournaments and televisions deals. However, Washington soon clamped down on the burgeoning industry with the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) essentially banning online poker and other forms of gambling in all 50 states.

Some online outlets attempted to circumvent the US ban, but federal law enforcement soon caught up with them and in 2011 the founders of the three largest internet poker companies at the time, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker, were all indicted for charges including violations of the UIGEA. According to court records the companies allegedly tried to circumvent the law with the help of other “payment processors” by disguising gambling revenue as payments for non-existent products such as jewellery or golf balls.

Whilst internet gambling stalled in the US, other countries such as the UK and Singapore welcomed the development of the industry with flexible legislation and a pro-business attitude to the industry. Both countries already had a long history of gambling, with the UK traditionally home to some of the world’s largest bookmakers, but the online marketplace opened up these businesses to a new world of opportunity.

Mobile is everything

The first wave of online gambling saw players use their desktop or laptop PCs to play poker or bet on a sporting event, but the real explosion in online gambling has come with the advent of smartphones. Smartphone apps give gambling firms a direct connection to their customers through the device in their pocket, with betting operators such as William Hill and Paddy Power using the Android and iOS app stores to provide a clean and distraction-free interface for their service. Whilst other firms like Betiton focus more on their web experience, with a design that is mobile-first in application.

Casino operators have also embraced mobile gambling, with live casino and poker apps some of the most popular with players around the world. Back in 2000, few would have predicted that people would have a device in their pockets that keeps them connected to the internet 24/7 and allows them to communicate with and play against against others around the world at the touch of a button. Today, mobile is where everyone is looking for growth opportunities and this trend looks set to continue for a number of years to come.

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