Online poker is one of the most popular games in the digital gaming sphere. Within a relatively short space of time, it’s become a top pastime with amateur gamers, sustained and developed the careers of pro gamers, and, of course, helped to propel iGaming into its current status as a lucrative global gaming industry.
Having gone from strength to strength for much of the last decade, online poker now stands as one of iGaming’s largest and most profitable verticals. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at how online poker developed from a niche activity pursued mostly by programmers to a globally popular gaming vertical that is even outperforming traditional video games in several markets.
A Brief History of Online Poker
While the traditional card game of poker dates back centuries ago, poker in its digital format is very much a modern invention.
The first instances of digital poker were carried out online using IRC (Internet Relay Chat). A programming script created by Todd Rummert and Greg Reynolds enabled players in the early 1990s to play games and even compete in poker tournaments online. While this was a field that was mostly dominated by tech geeks, it did give future WSOP winners like Chris Ferguson and Perry Friedman a headstart in their careers.
In 1998, sensing that an online gaming revolution was just around the corner, Mike ‘Mad Genius’ Caro established the world’s first virtual poker platform. The platform ran for just under a decade, but it set the precedent for real money poker gaming.
During the early 2000s, online poker enjoyed steady growth as more markets and platforms began to emerge. Then, in 2003, something happened that would change the course of digital poker forever.
Chris Moneymaker, an unknown, amateur poker enthusiast, won the coveted World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003 after qualifying for the tournament by playing a series of poker games online. This kickstarted the online poker boom, and soon gaming brands were going public on the London Stock Exchange and launching international tournaments of their own.
Online poker experienced a second boom during the mid-2010s, as it went live in states like Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. Then, in 2019, Pennsylvania launched its first online poker platform, pulling in thousands of gamers within hours. More recently, Michigan became the sixth US state to legalize online poker, providing yet more gaming opportunities to North American residents.
Why Online Poker is so Popular
Online poker has undeniably taken the gaming world by storm and even changed the career paths of professional players. So what is it about playing poker online that has captured gamers’ attention all over the globe?
There are several reasons why today’s players are choosing to compete for real money poker online. Firstly, it’s widely accessible. Across Europe, Asia, and much of North America, there are countless online platforms offering up a vast range of online poker games and tournaments. It’s possible to play everything from the universally popular Texas Hold’em to more obscure variants like Badugi online 24/7, 7 days a week.
Recent developments in advanced digital technology have even given rise to more interactive and immersive online poker experiences over the past few years. Some brands have expanded into the realm of Virtual Reality, launching several poker games that can be played in fully-immersive, simulated environments such as outer space, the Old West, and luxury yachts. Meanwhile, poker mobile gaming apps are rarely out of the charts of top-selling apps in major app stores.
The anonymity that comes with playing poker online also breaks down any barriers to entry that minority demographics might experience playing poker in a live cash-game setting. In virtual games, there’s simply no room for anyone to discriminate against other players, making it a much more comfortable environment for aspiring players across the gender spectrum.
Meanwhile, the saturation of the online poker market means that established platforms are in a constant battle to find and secure new users. To differentiate themselves from the competition, many leading poker brands lay on perks and promotions that you simply wouldn’t be able to find in a land-based casino or poker room.
And finally, there’s the fact that playing poker online is as engaging and enjoyable a pursuit as other mindsports like chess or fantasy sports gaming. Whilst there are countless opportunities for professional development in the online realm, digital poker is also incredibly beginner-friendly and open to adult gamers of any level.
Whilst real-money poker makes up the bulk of the games on offer online, there are numerous play money tournaments and gaming experiences to be found. These games are played using virtual chips and can be an excellent way for players new to poker to refine their skills – an approach that’s actually championed by top poker players – and because there’s no real money involved, they’re completely free to play.