History of Online Gambling: A Journey Through Time

Ever wondered how gambling leaped from smoky speakeasies to the bright screens in our pockets?

From rolling dice on the streets to tapping “bet” on our smartphones, the history of online gambling is a rapid one. 

This article is more than a history lesson from our Betting 101 section. It’s an exploration of how technology, society, and law have intertwined to shape the online gambling world we know. After all, knowing where we have come from is part of enjoying what we have today.

The Roots of Gambling in the US

Long before the internet was a twinkle in a programmer’s eye and when computers with the power of one modern microchip were still the size of entire buildings, gambling in the US had already been rolling the dice with history.

“The history of online gambling” is a bit of mislabel since gambling itself goes back as far back as the first prehistoric humans walking the soil of what we know as the US today.

Indigenous tribes within the US weren’t just playing games of chance; they were the pioneers of America’s gambling scene, laying the groundwork for what would become a national pastime. Evidence suggests there was betting on sports games and horse racing well before European colonists arrived.

And let’s not forget the granddaddy of American gambling activities, the lottery. It was more than just a game; it was a way to fund entire colonies! Historical texts from the colonial period, discovered by Historian Neal Millikan using newspaper advertisements in the colonial era, found at least 392 lotteries were held in the 13 colonies. These early lotteries were crucial in financing public projects. Imagine that, your ticket as a colonist could’ve paid for a street or a school!

Fast-forward to gambling in the 19th century, and you’ll find the first legal gambling dens sprouting up in famous Wild West towns such as Dodge City. These establishments were like the great-great-grandfathers of today’s online casinos, minus online casinos’ neon lights and 3D graphics. The casino industry has come a long way.

The Rise of Online Casinos

The first hubs for online casino games emerged in the mid-90s, a time when the internet was more of a curiosity than a necessity, still, there were those that wanted to elevate the gaming experience using the internet, no matter how new it was.

Online gambling operators began cropping up as part of the “dot-com bubble”, expanding the selection of games from what local retail casinos could offer to whatever internet-savvy gamblers could ever want through an online gaming experience.

The first modern internet casinos included:

  1. InterCasino (1996): Often cited as one of the very first online casinos to accept real money wagers, InterCasino was established in 1996, operating out of the Antigua and Barbuda free trade zone.
  2. The Gaming Club (1994-1995): While some sources claim The Gaming Club was established in 1994, others suggest it was in 1995. This makes it one of the earliest known online casinos. The Gaming Club was powered by software from Microgaming, a giant in the casino software industry that still operates today.
  3. Microgaming Software Systems Ltd. (1994): Microgaming claims to have launched the first genuine online casino in 1994. They are known for developing the first functioning gambling software, which led to the ability to wager real money in online casinos.
  4. Intertops Casino (1996): Intertops is another one of the pioneering online gambling sites, having started in 1996. They were also known for their sportsbook, which was considered an innovative addition to the online gambling scene at the time.

Initial software setup at any of these virtual casinos were basic by today’s standards, offering a simple user interface and basic graphics. However, what made them stand out was its ability to create a virtual community of gambling enthusiasts of all types underneath a unified, singular gambling experience.

Players were not only attracted to the convenience, but also to the novelty of playing poker online. Compare these features against the first online computer game with similar features, Sierra Online’s ImagiNation Network, (also known as Sierra Clubhouse) which released in 1995, offering non-betting games like checkers and chess!

Game from Sierra Online’s ImagiNation Network

Despite their trailblazing statuses, these early online casinos struggled in some areas, particularly in the realm of online security and the reliability of internet connections when it came to exchanging money.

The early days of internet gambling were plagued with issues like frequent disconnections and slow speeds, which were significant hurdles for online gaming platforms – don’t forget that part, either. Casino games have been here to stay for a long time, but adapting to the internet took some technical hurdles to overcome first.

To make things more complicated, the legal status of online gambling was unclear in many jurisdictions compared to land-based casinos, creating a complex environment for companies to operate, even if a number of them operated overseas in free trade zones.

Key Milestones and Legal Landmarks

  • 1994: The Free Trade & Processing Act, passed in Antigua and Barbuda, allows licenses for the first online casinos. As the island country is legally qualified as a “Free Zone,” customs authorities hold no sway in the way in which online casinos there can operate. Casinos operating from Antigua and Barbuda include Bodog and Golden Euro Casino.
  • 1996: The Kahnawake Gaming Commission is established, offering regulatory oversight and licenses. It was one of the first regulatory bodies to concentrate its efforts on online gaming, even if participation is voluntary for gaming companies outside of Kahnawake territory.
  • 1998: The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, introduced in the US Senate, aims to ban online gambling for U.S. citizens. It doesn’t pass, but it starts a whirlwind of legislative attempts to limit online gambling.
  • 2003: The rise of online poker rooms peaks with Chris Moneymaker’s historic 2003 World Series of Poker win, turning an online satellite entry into a $2.5 million industry, not just a pastime for gamblers.
Chris Moneymaker’s historic 2003 World Series of Poker win
  • 2006: The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, a heavy version of the original Internet Gambling Protection Act, is passed in 2006, targeting the financial transactions tied to online gambling, but not the players themselves, as in the original – the aim is to protect gamblers rather than prohibit them from playing altogether. This would raise constitutional legality questions that would show up later.
  • 2011: The U.S. Department of Justice seizes major poker sites, charging key figures with bank fraud and money laundering. Assets belonging to Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker were seized. The sites were raided based on money laundering and bribery through creating shell companies to process payments or investing in small banks to push financial processing through.
  • 2013: Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware legalize online gambling, setting a precedent for state-by-state legislation. Check the legality of online gambling, on our dedicated page to legal online casino states.
  • 2018: The Supreme Court overturns the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), opening the door for states to legalize sports betting beyond the original states of Oregon, Delaware, Montana, and Nevada.

Online Casino Culture in the US

The rise of the online gambling industry in the US has been more than a story of laws and technology combining — it’s the tale of a Cultural Revolution, where the digital world met the age-old thrill of the bet.

This chapter in the history of online gambling is a vibrant narrative of virtual communities, online poker celebrities, and a societal shift that embraced the digital dealer and the players keeping the industry moving.

Streaming and the Rise of Poker Celebrities

With streaming platforms rising left and right, poker players have become modern online celebrities. Viewers tune in not just to watch, but to learn from the best.

For example, under the Poker category alone, LexVeldhuis, a top Twitch streamer, has been watched for a combined 76,437 hours across a seven-day period from December to January 2024 alone. Even at the least, that’s 76,437 unique viewers watching for an hour.

Community and Forums

The popularity of many online gambling forums and communities became the virtual equivalent of the casino lounge. Here, players shared strategies, celebrated wins, and commiserated over losses.

Examples include gamblingforums.com, blackjacktheforum.com, betting-forum.com, casino.guru, wizardofvegas.com, casinomeister.com, and, of course, reddit – r/onlinegambling/.

In this evolution of the history of online casinos in the USA, the cultural aspect is as significant as the technological. It’s a tale of society embracing a new form of entertainment, creating a vibrant, diverse, and interconnected online community.

From virtual poker tables to tweets celebrating a big win, online gambling has become a staple in the digital entertainment diet of America – and it isn’t a piece of the food group’s pie chart that is going to go back to brick-and-mortar casinos anytime soon.

Technological Revolution in the Gambling Industry

In the ever-evolving world of online casinos, technology isn’t just an upgrade; it’s a game-changer. We’re not just playing games anymore; we’re stepping into a digital renaissance that’s reshaping the entire casino experience. Let’s shuffle through the deck of technological marvels that have turned the online casino world upside down.

Mobile Gaming, The Pocket-Sized Casino: Remember when you needed to be anchored to a clunky computer to gamble online? Those days are as gone as dial-up internet. With mobile casinos, gaming is now in your pocket. The mobile gambling industry is to rise above 150 billion in profits by 2030.

Live Dealer Games, Bringing the Human Touch: Just when you thought online gambling couldn’t get more real, live dealer games entered the chat. It’s like bringing Vegas to your living room, complete with a real dealer, real cards, and real-time play, all without the need to leave the house! See a database of live dealer sites here.

The Future of Online Gambling in the USA

Gambling establishments, in some ways, still have plenty of technologies to adapt. However, we’re far from the early days of online play. With e-commerce and online gaming regulations often going hand-in-hand today, the casino industry as we know it today won’t be the same casino industry we know tomorrow.

  1. The Rise of Sports Betting and Lottery: Recent studies predict a continued surge in popularity, especially with the integration of mobile betting apps, with live-game betting and fantasy sports getting more screen time than ever before. In fact, according to research, at least half of Americans have bet on a live sports game during 2023.
  2. Technological Advancements: The future of online gambling isn’t just online; it’s in virtual reality lounges and augmented reality casinos. Imagine playing a round of poker on Mars or hitting a slot machine jackpot while lounging on a virtual beach. While a fully dedicated VR casino hasn’t opened yet, there are plenty of video-gaming alternatives.
  3. Blockchain and Cryptocurrency: Blockchain technologies promise enhanced security, transparency, and anonymity in transactions, while the adaption of cryptocurrency can help online gambling organizations move past the restrictions and regulations of typical currencies. So far, a number of cryptocurrency-oriented casinos have opened.

The future of online gambling in the USA is a kaleidoscope of evolving legal frameworks and expanding markets. It’s a future where online casinos are more than just places to gamble; they’re immersive, interactive, and integrated into the fabric of entertainment – at some point, going online will be easier in most cases than heading out to Vegas.


The impact of online gambling apps on American culture and law has been profound. It has reshaped entertainment, revolutionized technology in gaming, and rewritten the legal rule book. We’ve seen states rolling the dice with new laws and technology companies dealing a hand in game development, creating a wide range of games offered online.

The story of online casino platforms and betting sites has not just been a story of leisure and luck; it’s been a catalyst for innovation, regulation, and cultural change. As the world of online gambling continues to expand and evolve, remember that it’s not just about the bet we place but also about understanding the games, playing safely, and respecting the rules. Yet, as we embrace this digital gaming revolution, it’s crucial to play responsibly. The bright lights of online casinos come with a reminder of the importance of safe gambling practices.

For those keen on staying informed and indulging responsibly, there’s a wealth of resources available. Online gambling activities are fine in moderation, but the fun stops with problem gambling. Your favorite casino games won’t be fun when gambling stops being a release and becomes a problematic lifestyle instead.