Although the game of poker in its purest form Texas Holdem dates back hundreds of years (to the cowboy midwest in fact), the industry of online poker is very new in comparison to other markets.
1998 – Planet Poker Launched
Online poker was started in 1998, when Planet Poker launched the first ever online poker room. Although online casinos had existed from 1994 (e.g. microgaming software) it wasn’t until 1998 when a company took the initiative to provide an online poker room that players would sit down and compete against other opponents at. Unfortunately at this time, due to insufficiencies in software and technology, the graphics were basic to say the least!
The following year, another poker site called Paradise Poker entered the mix. For any Tom Dwan fans that are out there, this was his first ever site where he deposited $50. Since then his online bankroll has increased to more than $10 million.
It wasn’t until major poker sites such as UB.com, PokerStars and more notably Party Poker entered the online gaming world. Party Poker became the largest public gaming company and invested huge amounts of money promoting online poker in the media in both the US and Europe. One of their biggest successes involved sponsoring the European Poker Tour (EPT). This significantly increased online poker’s popularity and increased player traffic. Up until now, Party Poker was by far the world’s biggest poker room and had the best promotions and tournaments (notably the Monthly Million, which attracted literally tons of players to their site to take part in the $1 Million GTD Prize Pool).
In 2003, Chris Moneymaker managed to qualify for the WSOP Main Event through a $40 satellite at PokerStars. He magnificently went on to win $2.5 million at the main event after battling through more than 800 competitors. His victory was set to change the perception of online poker for the next few years. Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP victory is widely considered to be the main catalyst for the growth of online poker from 2003 – 2006. He even published his own book and was signed on to become a full time PokerStars Pro Team Member.
Disaster struck in 2006 however. The US passed the UIGEA (unlawful internet gambling enforcement act) which effectively made depositing at online poker rooms/sportsbooks impossible in the US. This heavily dented the popularity and traffic of the US online poker market. It also led to PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker overtaking Party Poker as the world’s largest poker site, since Party Poker was forced to lose its entire US-player base. This would have led to around a 50% decrease in overall player traffic.
Towards the end of 2010, the US was very close to legalizing online poker in what was known as the Harry Reid bill. Although this would have legalized poker, it would also have led to a 2-year blackout of online poker in the US due to a clause in the bill. This was designed to make the marketplace fairer for land-based casinos such as Harrah to launch online poker rooms and compete with the majors in the market.