Did you know that Japan is the one who’s dominating the slot market around the world? The country has more than 4,2 million slot machines, meaning there’s one for every 30 people or so. The U.S. on the other hand has around 900,000 slots, meaning “only” 1 machine per 370 people.
Saying that, let’s not forget that Las Vegas as a city is in a league of its own, because there’s 1 slot machine for every 8 Sin City residents, which is pretty insane. But no matter how popular they are, the truth is that any of the slots on The Strip or in any other land based casino will always pay less than the ones we enjoy online.
I think we can agree on this being just another reason why playing online is so much better.
An Incredible Journey
Playing online is something we take for granted today but the fact that people have been able to enjoy slots for 130 years is quite mind boggling. The incredible journey of taking Liberty Bells and the one-armed bandits from the streets of San Francisco in 1894, to the way we are able to enjoy them today in the palm of our hands, has been as challenging as it’s been entertaining.
The history has navigated through technological advancements, legal challenges, and a constant change in player preferences. From their modest beginnings in the 1990s, online casinos have evolved into an enormous global industry that works tirelessly trying to please a tough audience from all corners of the world. The rapid pace of technological advancement and innovation has led to an exciting future for all casino players and we are all happy to be a part of it.
Any Time, Any Place
The accessibility of online casinos and slots has never been greater. Today, we can play our favorite slots on a wide range of devices, from desktop computers to laptops, smartphones and tablets. The phrase ‘Any Time, Any Place’ has never been more applicable to casino play.
Welcome to Part I
This is the first installment of a new series of articles that delves into the fascinating history of online slots. My intention is to take a closer look at the evolution of it all, starting from the very beginning. I don’t believe you should jump straight to the games without learning a bit about the history of online casinos first.
So without further ado, join me in my time machine and let’s head back to the mid 1990’s.
The Birth of Online Casinos
We think of online casinos as a pretty recent innovation but the truth is, the first one was born back in 1996. Considering this was a time when barely anybody had internet at home, it was very much the birth of a revolutionary movement. But before we get into that, let’s rewind the clock another two years.
Say Hello to Microgaming
Anyone who has spent some time at an online casino is familiar with the name Microgaming. If you can’t place it, just think of the biggest progressive Jackpot slot of all times, Mega Moolah. That’s right, Microgaming is the software provider behind it.
The Gaming Club
Back in 1994, Microgaming was just a startup company on the Isle of Man. Not having a massive budget as a startup, Microgaming thought of the idea to start an online community known as The Gaming Club. Trying to make the most of it, The Gaming Club is still an active casino.
Basically, this was the world’s first online casino platform, the problem was that it lacked the right system to allow players to bet with real money. Luckily, there was an Irish tech company called Cryptologic that was able to come up with the finances needed in order to get the ball rolling.
InterCasino – The First Online Casino in the World
On November 17th 1996, the newfound partnership resulted in the launch of InterCasino, the first online casino with real money betting. Believe it or not, but InterCasino is still around to this day. It’s far from great but if you’re looking for some kind of novelty, you might find it.
Success Means Competition
This was something brand new that the world hadn’t seen before. InterCasino was a success right from the start and we all know what that means – immediate competition!
Understanding the money involved, it didn’t take long before hundreds of new online casinos began to pop up, wanting a piece of the action.
Considering they would all be competing for the same players, it was the beginning of bigger and better promotions. Casinos trying to outdo each other in order to attract and steal players from their competition is something we take for granted today.
I can only imagine how much more cutthroat it must have been in the late 90’s because of the limited number of online players and the lack of rules and regulations.
A Las Vegas and Land Based Casino Nightmare
Offering bonuses and Free Spins has always been an effective way of marketing your product and it has helped grow the popularity of playing online. Before this all came about, land based casinos were king. Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other hot spots could sit back and enjoy themselves while players came from all over the world to play at their establishments.
Online Play is Untouchable
Because of their higher operating cost, it’s not possible for them to compete with the type of promotions online casinos can offer. Initially they did their best to fight the emergence of online play before quickly realizing it was pointless. Sure, they can offer unique experiences outside of the actual casino play, which is something they do better than anybody. However, when it comes to actual casino promotion, online play is untouchable.
Making Sure the Industry Stays Honest
With this new software that allowed people to play online, a whole new world opened up. The risk with a wide open market that was lacking regulation is that it can quickly turn into the Wild West.
Since Micrograming was one of the “founding fathers” in a sense, as one of the original developers, they realized some sort of governing body was needed. Someone who could keep an eye on the industry and make sure that it stayed as legitimate as possible.
Operations are running pretty smooth these days but this was the very beginning of online payments etc. Since the early days of casino games, gambling has always had a reputation of being associated with a lot of shady characters. It was almost a common understanding back in the cowboy days that if you were found out to be cheating other players at cards, you could expect catching a bullet with your forehead.
In order to clean up any negative connotations, it was clear that the industry would have to prove to players that they could be trusted.
Meet the Interactive Gaming Council
Together with some of the other big players, Microgaming created the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) in 1997. This was the group who was tasked with helping regulate the industry and to make sure that the games were fair to players.
The IGC would also be in charge of overseeing all casino operators and make sure to get rid of any bad seeds that would bring negativity to the industry.
All That Glitters is Not Gold
So now when the IGC was put in place, everyone involved was looking forward to a nice, smooth sailing into the sunset. Wrong!
While everything looked great on the outside, it turned out that Microgaming was really pulling some strings behind the scenes. In order to have a Microgaming license as an operator, one of the stipulations was that you would have to agree to use the Microgaming servers. This meant that Microgaming ould get access to your entire database of clients.
Other big casinos noticed how Microgaming stole their players and immediately backed out of the contract. This was immediately followed by lawsuits of course but was ultimately settled. If you are wondering about Microgaming today, don’t worry, they no longer force you to use their servers.
Enter the 2000s and The Tech Boom
Once we entered the new millennium, there was a significant shift in the online casino landscape. More available internet, faster connection together with more sophisticated software took online gambling to a whole new level.
Thanks to the introduction of secure payment methods and the ability to play with different currencies really flipped the script and opened the door to a much bigger global audience.
The Beginning of eCOGRA
One of the most important milestones took place in 20023. This was when eCOGRA(eCommerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance) was founded. This was an independent organization that was dedicated to ensuring both fair and responsible gaming.
By setting strict standards for transparency and accountability helped create trust among casino players.
Set the Tone For Today
The first decade of the 2000s had a major impact on the industry. We saw the number of online casinos grow at a tremendous pace and the range of games along with them. This was the time that really set the tone for what we have today.
The First Online Slot – Cash Splash
Knowing the major impact Microgaming had as an industry pioneer, it’s hardly surprising that they also came out with the first online slot in 1998 – Cash Splash.
Besides a cool name and being the first online slot, Cash Splash broke another barrier as well. It was also the first game to have a progressive jackpot. Today, huge jackpots are being paid out by Mega Moolah and other progressive jackpot games on a regular basis and are very popular among players.
You can imagine the effect this new innovation had in 1998 and Microgaming was once again the star of the show that everybody looked up to and wanted a piece of. This of course helped the company secure the absolute biggest gaming clients.
How Was It to Play Cash Splash?
Being a product of its time, Cash Splash was of course very basic in terms of gameplay compared to today’s games. Despite being a 3-reel slot with a single payline, the game still led the way for future online slots.
Besides being the first progressive jackpot slot, there were no other features, which makes total sense. Even the symbols didn’t push any boundaries as Cash Splash stuck to the traditional 10, J, Q, K, A plus the high paying symbols BAR, 7’s and of course the cherries.
The Future of Gaming
What we call simplicity and retro today was of course revolutionary and highly futuristic at the time. With a medium volatility and a 91.51% RTP, Cash Splash was the future of gaming. At the time of release and up until the early 2000s, no other big progressive jackpots came even close to the popularity of Cash Splash.
More Microgaming Games
The success of the game led to a long list of new Microgaming slots like Pirates Paradise, Martian Money and Pharaoh’s Fortune. You can see in the image above that the style is pretty much the same as Cash Splash.
As a matter of fact, there was even a new version of Cash Splash released in 2004, only this time it had 5 reels instead of the original 3.
It’s a bit of a challenge to find the original 3-reel Cash Splash but you can find it at:
- Cloudbet (both versions)
The 5-reel version is more accessible and can be played at:
Early Player Experiences
Far from everyone had internet connection at home even in the late 1990s and those who did, it wasn’t as fast as it is today. Despite not being up to par in terms of the graphics and features that we are used to now, at the time, Cash Splash and other games were the hottest thing on the market.
I remember the computer and video games at the time, which weren’t very visually pleasing but yet a ton of fun.
Playing the “games of the future” will always have a certain ring to it and those who played Cash Splash and other games didn’t have any issues with the number of reels or the mechanics.
The fact that you could bring land-based casino slots into your own home must have brought a ton of excitement. Lucky for us, we are still riding that wave each and every day.
I mentioned in the beginning of the article how this is part one of a series on how online slots made their way into our lives and the development that occurred along the way. My intention is to learn more about the advancements, innovations and trends that have shaped the casino world we enjoy today.
During the upcoming parts of the series, I will take a deep dive into the types of slots that we enjoy so much. I’m referring to Megaways, Progressive Jackpots, Bonus Buy as well as Hold and Win slots.
I’m excited to see where this series will take us and I hope you are curious and willing to continue on this journey along with me.