History of Online Poker

Internet poker has been around for a bit more than a decade, yet it seems as though online casinos have existed forever. To say the progression of internet technology has been rapid is no doubt an understatement. It has been said that the internet advances technology-wise each year at a pace equal to seven years of real time, so it is no wonder that it was as recently as 1998 that the first internet poker room – Planetpoker.com made its online debut, the first of a wave of online poker rooms and internet casinos. Planet Poker was founded by popular poker author, pro poker player, and legend, Mike Caro, and still exists to this day as a free poker site, but no longer accepts real money betting due to the whole UIGEA ordeal (more on this later on). The first real-money poker game offered on the site was a Texas Hold’em $3/$6 game.

Although Planetpoker.com was the first online poker site, it paved the way for future poker rooms and the crowds of players that were drawn into the game to create a multi-billion dollar industry. The following year in 1999, a new card room called Paradise Poker emerged and became the industry leader, with 10,000 people active on the site during peak times. In addition to Texas Holdem, the online poker room offered 7 Card Stud and Omaha games. Their poker software client has also been vastly improved with better features for serious poker players including the functionality to take player notes.

In the earliest days of this industry, playing poker online was strictly for amateurs, but as internet technology evolved, and poker sites began to incorporate these advances into their software, online players soon discovered that poker playing in cyberspace was becoming more sophisticated, reliable, and user friendly. Soon, technology improved to the point where multiple tournaments were feasible, and cash game grinders also had the ability to play at multi tables at once. As these tournaments proliferated on the net, many online players were gaining the skills and confidence needed to enter high stakes tournaments in the "real" or land-based casinos. In fact, as it turned out online poker rooms were becoming in effect, "farm teams," grooming future stars for the major leagues of poker.

Big-league poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker (WSOP), and the World Poker Tour (WPT), actually owe much of their success to the favorable publicity gained when a relative tournament novice, the appropriately named Chris Moneymaker, won the 2003 World Series of Poker grand prize of $2,500,000. Chris had gained entrance to the WSOP via a satellite tournament, paying a $40 entry fee, and winning a $10,000 buy-in to the World Series of Poker. The entire drama of this tournament was seen worldwide via cable tv on ESPN, which through an arrangement with WSOP officials contracted to televise the entire tournament as a seven part ESPN Special.

Many wannabe poker professionals were inspired by the telecast, and even non-poker playing viewers became instant fans. This unforeseen jump in popularity has resulted in an unprecedented number of participants in the tournaments that have followed, including a record breaking number of entrants into the 2006 WSOP tournament at the Rio in Las Vegas, and an all-time high $12 million dollar first prize money award, which was won by Jamie Gold. Since then, this remarkable amount of prize money for first place has only been matched by the ONE DROP event, a $1 million dollar buy-in event, which was taken out by Antonio Esfandiari for a cool $18 million dollars in cash. These jaw dropping prize pools have no doubt lit the flame for many aspiring poker players, with many of the top online poker rooms featuring satellites into the major live events.

By 2004, sites like PokerStars, Party Poker and Full Tilt Poker had entered the industry and set the bar even higher in terms of quality, game selection, and the feel of the poker room. These three rooms amassed millions of online poker players and online poker was growing faster than anyone could have ever imagined. New online poker sites were launched and offered their services with hundreds of websites opening their doors to players for free and real money play.

But just as things couldn’t have looked brighter for the online poker industry in the United States, the Senate under Bush's Presidency approved the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in October of 2006, making it illegal for U.S. banks to transfer funds back and forth to gambling websites. This had a devastating impact on the online poker industry in the U.S. with many of the US facing poker sites such as Party Poker ceasing to do business with Americans seemingly overnight. However, due to the extremely vague nature of this online gaming legislation, many online poker sites chose to ignore the UIGEA and still accepted US players.

Then in April 2011, on what is now referred to as Black Friday in the poker industry, the US poker market took another huge blow when the DOJ shut down the three biggest poker sites servicing U.S. players, PokerStars, Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet, and Full Tilt Poker, based on illegal gambling transactions made between U.S. players and online gambling websites. A number of indictments were handed down to CEOs and executives of these companies, and it resulted in even fewer online poker room options to choose from if you are an American.

As to the future of online poker, there is no question that the targeted markets for internet casinos and poker rooms will be in parts of the world other the United States until there is a regulated and legal online gambling and online poker market in the US. Although brick-and-mortar casinos claim that online gaming legislation will not affect them, since they are not in the online gambling business, the proof will be in the number of entrees signing up for future poker tournaments.