Since the mid-1990s, online gambling websites have entertained and enthralled. Whether you’re a casual player or an experienced gamer, the range of websites and products available has never been greater or more diverse.
By 2007, the industry was estimated to be turning over in excess of £84 billion, and that figure has grown exponentially in the decade since then, especially as internet use in developing countries grows.
Online gambling got its big break in 1994 when Antigua and Barbuda passed the free trade and processing act, which granted the first licenses to online casino operators. Although, prior to that, gambling software had been developed that allowed players to experience games like blackjack, roulette and poker in a virtual environment for the first time.
The passing of the act in ‘94 paved the way for new commissions to be established, and just two years later there were at least 15 specialist gambling websites, which attracted interest mainly from experienced players looking to practice their hobby from the comfort of their own home.
But just two short years later that number had exploded into the hundreds, and industry estimates placed the revenues generated by online gambling websites at more than $830 million in a single year.
A year later, in 1999, the first websites to offer multiplayer gambling emerged and, just three years after that, an estimated 8 million people worldwide were enjoying their favourite games online.
But what is the secret behind the industry’s success? It’s true that the internet has revolutionised a range of industries, including shopping, music, television and film, and like those sectors, gambling has benefited enormously from the emergence of mobile technology.
Smartphones have made it easier than ever for players to access their favourite games on the go, and the simplicity of many of the world’s most popular games make them a perfect fit for the smaller screen.
Mobile has since become the most lucrative area in terms of growth in the industry, now accounting for nearly half of the global market and turning over just shy of £50 billion by the end of 2018.
Much like online gambling capitalised on the emergence of the internet, the growing number of people who own and regularly use smartphones has also helped underpin its continued success and better connect with a more casual category of player.
Games like bingo have grown in popularity online in recent years and, while many play bingo online for real money a significant percentage enjoy the thrill of lottery and casino games without the incentive of a cash pay-out – or the risk of a financial stake.
The growth in popularity of online bingo, in particular, has also helped the industry better connect with female players. In its early days, online gambling was skewed towards a male demographic but, by 2015, women accounted for just under half of all online players.
While other industries, like American football, have scrambled desperately to diversify their audience, hit new demographics and reach larger audiences, the online gambling industry appears to have taken this challenge in its stride.
Indeed, many gambling websites are targeted specifically at female players, offering a safe environment for women to socialise with one another and enjoy the games at their own pace, without the stereotypical macho undertones of classic casino gaming.
Though regulation grows ever more robust in some countries, the acceleration in the popularity of gambling online, and on the go, shows no sign of slowing. And perhaps the biggest challenge for existing brands is keeping hold of their market share as start-ups in new nations enter the race.