A Brief History of Online Poker: The Poker Boom, Black Friday, and More

A Brief History of Online Poker: The Poker Boom, Black Friday, and More

Despite only being invented at the start of the 21st century, online poker has rapidly become one of the most significant developments in the history of the game. It has completely transformed poker, both for casuals and competitive players.

Throughout the two decades of online poker’s existence, there have been quite a few memorable moments. It drove the poker boom in 2003, revolutionized the World Series of Poker (WSOP), and even got almost entirely banned from the United States. Today, we’ll take a deep dive into the rich history of online poker, identifying the most significant milestones up until today. 

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1994: The seeds for online poker are sown

The earliest iterations of online poker appeared in 1994. The websites didn’t offer the fancy interfaces we know today; they didn’t have interfaces at all. The first online games were played through Internet Relay Chat (IRC), meaning they were entirely text-based. A far cry from what we have now, but everything has to start from somewhere.

1998: Planet Poker offers the first real-money online games

In 1998, Planet Poker became the first online card room to offer games for real money. Organized by Randy Blum, the very first online poker game was classic No Limit Texas Holdem with stakes of $3/$6. This game was held on January 1st, 1998, marking the start of the new year and the start of online poker’s reign. Poker player and author Mike Caro later became the first pro to endorse an online poker room, becoming the face of Planet Poker. 

1998 – 2002: The first online poker sites get established throughout the US

After Planet Poker set the standard, more and more poker sites began appearing. Online poker was still a niche way to play, but the industry was already taking root. Some of the most iconic poker sites were established in this period, like PokerStars on September 11, 2001. 

2003: The Moneymaker Effect

The 2003 WSOP remains one of the most impactful and surprising ones to date. The winner, Chris Moneymaker, stirred up a storm in the community, with his run kickstarting poker’s surge in popularity from 2003-2006, known as the Poker Boom. How did one person’s win make the game so popular?

The first reason was that Moneymaker was a complete and total amateur. He had only played online poker as a hobby, working as an accountant for his day job. Even though the WSOP was his first live tournament, he went against all odds and won, showing the world that anyone can win at poker if they have what it takes.

The second reason was that Moneymaker wouldn’t even be at the WSOP without online poker. Online poker led to the creation of satellite tournaments, which act as qualifiers for larger events. Moneymaker had won a $39 satellite, which qualified him for a $600 one. Winning this gave him a seat at the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event, all for free. He turned $39 into a $2.5 million WSOP Main Event win through online poker. 

Moneymaker proved two things: Anyone can become a poker player, and online poker is a legitimate way to play. In the next three years, poker became absurdly popular, with the WSOP having an insane ten times the number of entrants in 2006 compared to 2003. Online poker sites also exploded in popularity, with sites like PokerStars becoming famous for offering Moneymaker the satellite that qualified him for the WSOP. This increase in popularity has been coined “The Moneymaker Effect.”

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2006: The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 

With Moneymaker’s win in 2003 beginning the poker boom, you may wonder what event ended it. In October 2006, the United States government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Up until then, online poker had been wildly unregulated, and this act finally imposed some limitations. 

It led to many publicly-traded companies leaving the US for good to appease their stakeholders. Notable ones include Pacific Poker, Paradise Poker, and Party Poker, the leading online poker site at the time. This was a huge blow to poker’s overall popularity, and it was evident at the 2007 WSOP, which had 6358 entrants, about a 28% drop from 2006’s 8773.

2011: Black Friday 

Though many notable poker sites left the US, a few private companies stayed. Sites like PokerStars, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet decided to continue offering poker in the US, finding other ways to process payments because most banks refused to after the UIGEA was passed. 

Section 5364 of the UIGEA stipulated that federal regulators had 270 days to create anti-gambling regulations, but it took a while for them to go into effect. This gave companies a few years to comply, up to June 2010. Once no company did, the indictment began but was promptly sealed until 2011. 

On April 15th, 2011, a Friday, the online poker scene fell into chaos. Players all over the US saw that the government seized the four most popular poker sites at the time. Mass panic ensued, as the sites couldn’t process withdrawals, so players’ earnings were in limbo. 

The responses of the companies to Black Friday were mixed. Some, like PokerStars, responded well, swiftly cooperating with the government to cease US operations and return players’ funds. Others like Absolute Poker and UltimateBet essentially just took the money and ran. They initially ignored the indictment and tried to offer poker games as usual. However, once players just wanted to withdraw, they fired all their staff and refused to process any withdrawals.ย 

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Check out online poker if you’re interested!

We hope you got interested in the history of online poker, from its domination during the poker boom to its fall in 2011’s Black Friday. If you’re interested in trying it out, make sure that online poker is legalized in your area. Currently, it is only legal in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan for the US, and only some of those areas have actual poker sites.

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