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From Zero to $30 Billion: The History of Online Sports betting Sites

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Internet betting goes from unheard-of to unstoppable in a single decade, and now earns over $30 billion in annual profit.

The advent of the internet in the early 1990s was a game changer for all forms of human interaction, including how we do business and how we entertain ourselves. One activity which combines both of these is gambling. The gambling industry was changed forever by the internet revolution. With the mythologized days of old Las Vegas long gone, how most of us wager today would be unrecognizable to someone from 1990.

To be even more specific, sportsbetting has evolved immensely, moving from the land-based betting shop and telephone service where one would look up odds in a newspaper to one in which the entire process can be done by clicking a mouse or punching in digits on a mobile phone. This piece will give a history of online sports betting from the early 1990s to today.

The spark of revolution is ignited

The internet first became available to households with the launch of the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1991. While essentially bare in the beginning, more and more individuals and businesses began posting information accessible there. Betting shops first began using the internet by posting odds on web pages. Visitors could get the information online and then place the bet via telephone.

• The first betting websites popped up in the early 1990s and only listed odds for events; punters still had to place bets via telephone

• Intertops launched the first ever site in which bettors could place wagers directly online

• 16 years after the first online betting site launched the industry earned $30 billion in profit worldwide

The first sportsbook to offer online betting directly was Intertops, which launched its website in 1996. The bookmaker had been around since 1983 taking wagers by telephone. When the internet hit they jumped on the bandwagon, opening an offshore office in Antigua and Barbuda and quickly getting to work serving bettors on the new platform. The launch of Intertops online sportsbook was a truly watershed moment. For the first time ever someone could place a bet using only a computer.

This would become the future of sportsbetting, with today the majority of legal bets worldwide being placed via computer. For most of us the old way of betting has become obsolete, and for good reason. Aside from the social experience of visiting the betting shop, it is infinitely more convenient to place a bet from the comfort of your own home, with all of the information in the world at your fingertips.

Betting becomes more sophisticated

After the successful online debut of Intertops everyone was looking to get a slice of the pie. More major bookmakers opened internet operations, including William Hill in 1998 and Bet365 in 2001. William Hill’s move was another major watershed, as it was the first of the old guard of betting shops to start taking bets online. These days no bookie could survive without hosting services online.

The saturation of the supply of internet bookies has been a great thing for bettors. Online sportsbooks in Canada, Britain and Germany usually offer better odds than betting shops because competition for customers is fiercer. Land-based betting shops only have to compete with others in the neighborhood, while online bookies have to compete worldwide.

The internet revolution has also increased the options available to bettors. One example is novelty, or “prop” betting, which allows punter to wager in things unrelated to the outcome of sporting events. To be fair, it was first invented during the late 19th century. But it has greatly risen in popularity since betting went online. The internet helped spread awareness about prop bets, and these days punters can log onto any online bookmaker and choose from a variety of both reasonable and ridiculous options.

It also helped fuel the live betting market, which is very popular in online and mobile casinos in the UK. Punters can follow event scores online then immediately place in-game bets. While this type of betting existed before via television and telephone, the internet has made it much more convenient and prevalent.

Internet-based operations appear

Nothing better reflects the paradigm shift in favor of the online betting market than the fact that numerous companies have popped up primarily to serve online bettors. One example is UK-based Bet365, which was founded by Denise Coates in 2000, four years after the groundbreaking launch of Intertops. Bet365 did get its start with betting shops but quickly specialized in the online market, and now does most of its business via internet and mobile platforms. In 2012 its online platform accounted for 5 percent of the total profit earned in Britain’s huge sports betting market.

The Nevada-licensed bookie Bovada is one of the biggest online sports betting sites in the US and doesn’t even own betting shops. Bets can only be placed online. Some other internet-only outfits are TopBet and BetOnline. Brick-and-mortar betting shops aren’t going away anytime soon, but they aren’t the backbone of the betting industry anymore. A report by Aruvian Research found that the worldwide online betting industry pulled in $30 billion in profit in 2012. And one must consider that this number would be much larger if American gambling laws were more friendly towards betting. Things really have changed in the last 20 years.

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