Two decades of online poker, and counting

It's been more than 20 years since the first real money poker game was dealt, and the selection of poker sites has never been so vast. From web-based clients to mobile apps, online poker offer several possibilities for players, including free cash deals, loyalty bonuses, and different game regulations, like Texas and Omaha Hold’em.

Online poker’s been partly responsible for the poker boom, in the early 2000s, when millions of people started playing in every corner of the globe. Since 2006, most poker websites are banned in the US, but with new state legislations, they are coming back to some states.

When it seemed interest in online poker was fading, the covid-19 pandemic made us all stay at home, and people all around the world started looking for some kind of refuge, to forget, even if for a while, about these difficult times we’re facing.

First steps

Online poker took its first steps in the 90s, when it was played over the IRC chat protocol, using computer programs to deal and manage games. Still, there was no money involved. That changed in 1998, when the first real money online poker game was dealt, on PlanetPoker, one of online poker’s pioneers.

From there, dozens of websites were created, offering players a lot of alternatives, regarding game rules and regulations. Soon, the satellites tournaments came up. These tourneys gave the winners entry to real-life poker competitions, as well as cash prizes. Shortly after, in 2003, Chris Moneymaker became the first player to win the World Series of Poker after qualifying from an online tournament. This achievement shocked the poker world, and resulted in the beginning of the poker boom in 2004.

Poker boom

Apart from the rise of online poker, there were other events that helped pave the way for the poker boom. The release of films like Rounders and Croupier, the increasing coverage of World Series of Poker Main Events and the inaugural season of World Poker Tour are cited as some of these influences.

When amateur player Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker, after qualifying from a satellite tournament on PokerStars, the poker world was in shock. Never an amateur player had won the competition, much less coming from an online poker tournament, which was still a “new trend”. This led to a surge for online poker, and many of these poker sites emerged from that.

With this new found popularity, a lot of real-life and online tournaments came up, giving people the hope of achieving the same success as Moneymaker. In 2004, another amateur, Greg Raymer, took the World Series of Poker home after winning a satellite tourney.

Websites like PokerStars, PartyPoker and ParadisePoker dominated the market, and became bastions for online poker. But in 2006, an US bill was signed that banned online poker and online gambling companies from the country. Many of these websites lost stock value, but kept operating outside the United States and remained open to american citizens.

After that, online poker started losing its appeal. In the first World Series of Poker after the passage of the bill, the attendance dropped almost 30% for the Main Event. And many websites were forced to shut down.

Ongoing changes

In the years following the 2006 bill, the number of online poker players diminished, but never to the same level it was before the boom. People were still playing, and some companies like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker managed to grow their share of the market.

When PartyPoker closed their US operations, PokerStars overtook them as the world’s largest online poker room, keeping this position ever since. In 2009, they set the world record for the biggest online tournament, when almost 150 thousand players paid the US$1 entry fee.

In recent years, with many new state legislations being passed, some poker websites are returning their operations to the United States, especially in Michigan and New Hampshire.

In 2020, the world was stunned by a global pandemic, and people all over the globe had to comply with social distancing and new health protocols by staying at home. This led to a 43% increase in online poker traffic, and, according to The Business Research Company, first-time online poker players more than doubled, as people could no longer attend real-life card rooms. But more than that, people enduring lockdowns in many countries turned to online poker as a distraction from the dreadful events that shocked us last year.