The Evolution of Online Sports Betting Since it Began in 1996
In 1996, soccer teams Tottenham Hotspur and Hereford United played each other in an FA Cup replay. There was nothing unusual about the game at all, but it still had a significant impact on the history of sports betting.
Why? Because the first ONLINE sports wager was placed on this game, at the first online betting site.
Intertops, which is still in operation, took a $50 wager from a Finnish customer. The online betting industry was born, and wagering on sports would never be quite the same again.
It didn’t take long for online sports betting to explode. It became very popular, very quickly. Today, millions of people use the internet to place their wagers. The online betting industry brings in billions of dollars each year, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
The industry has endured many changes since that first online wager was placed. Advances in technology and some amazing innovations are why it continues to grow so rapidly. We’re excited to see what the future of online betting beholds.
This article doesn’t focus on the future of sports betting, though, it focuses on its past. We look at how sports betting has evolved over the years to become what it is today. We explain the most significant changes that have happened during the evolution of online sports betting, and discuss how they affect us.
Changes in Regulation & Legislation
When the sports betting industry first took off, it was not regulated too closely. Most sites had some kind of gambling or betting license that authorized them to operate and provide their services, but the requirements for those licenses were not very strict. There wasn’t much (if any) oversight of exactly what these sites were doing and how they were operating.
This was BAD for customers.
Sure, there were some trustworthy sites that launched in the late 90s. They were often operated by brand new companies that formed specifically to become a part of this industry. Their goal was to make a profit by providing an excellent service to their customers.
On the other side of the spectrum was the “scam” sites. These sites were launched with the specific aim of ripping people off. Somewhere in the middle are the sites that started with good intentions but then resorted to stealing and/or cheating their customers for one reason or another.
The point we’re trying to make here is that a lot of people lost a lot of money to rogue betting sites back then. It was very difficult for anyone to know which sites were trustworthy and which weren’t. Many people didn’t put much thought into which site to use, and just signed up at the first site they found.
Thankfully, things are different these days.
The regulation is much better now. There’s still room for improvement, but betting online is certainly a lot safer. There are various online gambling jurisdictions around the world that have legalized and regulated internet betting. The licensing authorities in most of these jurisdictions are very strict about which sites they issue licenses to, and they ensure that all their licensed sites operate in a fair and ethical way.
Do rogue sites still exist? Yes, unfortunately. But there’s not very many of them, and they’re much easier to avoid. All you have to do is stick with sites that are properly regulated and operating legally in a suitable jurisdiction.
Although the regulation of online sports betting has improved as the industry has evolved, it’s fair to say that the relevant legislation has not. Not in a global sense anyway. There are several countries around the world that still have outdated gambling laws that make no mention at all of online betting. There are other countries that have introduced new legislation, but made it so confusing that it’s hard to decipher what’s legal and what’s not.
This lack of legal clarity is a real problem for the industry in some countries.
Since the legal situation is so unclear, we understand why people are so reluctant to wager online. They’re simply not willing to risk breaking the law.
The good news is that we’re not aware of any country that makes it explicitly illegal for an individual to place real money sports wagers on the internet. So, the chances of being arrested for placing a bet online are pretty much zero. That’s not really the point though. The issue is that the relevant laws are just too vague in too many countries. This is something we hope to see change in the coming years.
Please see the following article if you’d like some more information on the relevant laws around the world.
Intertops may have been the first online betting site, but they weren’t without competition for very long. Several other sites were launched in 1996 too, and many more in the following few years. As the popularity of online betting increased throughout the early 21st century, the number of sites grew exponentially. These days there are literally hundreds of them.
Is this good or bad?
It’s good for us!
The sheer volume of sites means that the online betting industry is a VERY competitive one. There are so many options for customers that they can afford to be very choosy about where they place their wagers. This means that sites have to work very hard to attract and retain customers, which ultimately forces them to provide a better service.
Several of the developments we mention later in this article are direct results of the competitive nature of the industry. The overall quality of sites has improved because they’re all trying to outdo each other. The variety of betting options has improved for the same reason, and we probably wouldn’t get such good odds and lines if there were less sites competing for our business. We might not have seen so much innovation either.
An especially significant benefit for us is the bonuses and rewards available.
The bonuses and rewards that sites offer are one of the biggest advantages of betting online. We actually are given extra money to bet with, in return for making deposits and placing wagers. We don’t get that in the Nevada sportsbooks, or in bookmaking shops around the world. Would we get these bonuses and rewards online if there was less competition? Probably not. They certainly wouldn’t be so generous.
Overall the fact that there are so many betting sites available is a huge benefit to us as customers. The only real downside is that it’s hard to decide which ones to use. That’s why the GamblingSites.com team put so much effort into ranking the best sites, and making recommendations to our readers.
What about the sites themselves though? Do they benefit from the industry being so competitive? In all honesty, no they don’t. A well-known myth is that running a betting site is a license to print money. Yes, the biggest sites are very profitable. That’s BECAUSE they’re the biggest though. There are lots of smaller sites that struggle to make any kind of profit at all, and that’s largely due to the amount of competition they’re up against.
We hope that the industry remains so competitive. It wouldn’t be a disaster if there were not quite so many sites to choose from, and that will probably happen over the next few years. Some of the smaller sites will either close due to a lack of profit, or be taken over by one of the bigger operators.
It WOULD be a disaster if there were suddenly just a few sites to choose from though. With less competition, they wouldn’t have to give away so much in bonuses and rewards. They wouldn’t have to offer such good odds and lines. They probably wouldn’t even need to offer a particularly good service. And we don’t want that at all.
Improvement in User Experience
Modern betting sites ultimately serve the same purpose as the early sites did. They’re there to take our wagers and our money, and pay us out when we win. Not much has changed in this respect. The difference in the quality of the user experience is huge though. Genuinely huge. There’s simply no comparison between then and now.
The early betting sites served their purpose and that’s it. They didn’t look great, and they weren’t very user-friendly. They were often slow and unresponsive, and it was sometimes hard to find what we were looking for. The simple fact that we could place our wagers online was enough to keep us happy to be honest, but using these sites was NOT a wonderful experience.
It’s completely different with today’s sites. Not all sites are of the same quality of course, but even the worst ones are better than the early ones. The best ones are a LOT better. Not only are they more pleasing to the eye, but they’re also much easier to use. They’re fast, responsive and everything is well laid out.
There have been many other improvements in quality too. Here are just a few examples.
More options for depositing and withdrawing
Faster deposits and withdrawals
Better customer service (including live chat at many sites)
Wagers settled faster
All in all, the online betting user experience has improved drastically: to the extent that it’s actually difficult to see how much better it can get from here. We’re sure to see plenty more developments in the industry in the years to come, but we wouldn’t be surprised if sites have reached their peak in terms of overall quality and user experience. We’d love to be proved wrong on this though!
Wider Coverage of Sports & Events
We can’t remember exactly which sports and events were covered at the early betting sites. We could definitely bet on all the major sports and big events, and there might have been a few other options too. One thing’s for sure though: the coverage was nowhere near what it is today.
At virtually all modern betting sites we can bet on pretty much any sport we want. And pretty much any event too. No matter when and where it is, or how obscure it is, if it’s a professional sports event we can probably bet on it.
This development is great for both casual and serious sports bettors.
Most casual bettors enjoy betting on different sports and events, so the more choice the better. Although serious bettors tend to have a more narrow focus, and concentrate on just one or two sports, betting on the less mainstream sports and events can potentially be very profitable. It’s often easier to find value in those betting markets, as they don’t attract the same amount of attention from the odds compilers.
Better Variety of Wagers
There’s an article on our blog about some prop bets to consider for Super Bowl 51. The betting advice it offers is obviously out of date, since the memorable game has already come and gone, but we still recommend glancing through it anyway. It will give you a better idea of the variety of wagers available at modern day betting sites.
Okay, so this was for the Super Bowl: one of the biggest sports events of the year. There were OBVIOUSLY going to be a lot of wagering options available. The thing is, this kind of variety is not unusual. It’s certainly not limited only to events on the scale of the Super Bowl. These days you’ll find an excellent variety of wagers for most events.
To illustrate, here’s a list of the different wagers available for an upcoming soccer game.
Full time result
Half time/full time
Half time correct score
Total goals (over/under)
Total goals (exact)
Total goals in first half
Total goals in second half
Both teams to score
Alternative Asian handicap
Draw no bet
First team to score
First player to score
Time of first goal
Half with most goals
This list is nowhere near conclusive. We stopped after listing twenty wagers, and we were less than half way done. Remember: this is just for ONE game!
This kind of variety just wasn’t available in the early days of online sports betting. Heck, some of these wagers hadn’t even been “invented” yet. We were pretty much limited to just the traditional types of wagers, such as point spreads, money line wagers (win bets) and totals.
There’s a good chance that you’ll never take full advantage of the variety of wagers that’s available online. We’re pretty sure that we never will either, and we bet A LOT. It’s nice to have so many options though, as it makes it easier to find good opportunities to get some money down.
More Competitive Odds & Lines
We briefly touched on this development earlier, when we were discussing the competitive nature of the online sports betting industry. It’s worthy of discussing in a little more detail though, simply because it’s such a big deal.
In the early years of online betting, the odds and lines on offer were pretty much the same as what was available elsewhere. Honestly, we haven’t seen huge changes in this area. They have definitely gotten a little more competitive though, and that’s good enough for us.
Even just small differences in the odds and lines can have a significant impact on how much we make overall. So this is a development in the evolution of online sports betting that we REALLY appreciate. We’d love to think that the odds and lines will get even better in the future, but that’s not going to happen. Betting sites already operate on very small margins, so there’s just no room for improvement.
More Innovative Promotions & Features
We already mentioned the bonuses and rewards that betting sites offer, and how valuable they can be. These days most sites also offer additional promotions to attract and retain customers, some of which can be equally valuable. On top of that, they’re usually very entertaining! Sites have become more and more innovative these days, as they are trying to set themselves apart from the crowd.
Here are some examples of the kind of promotions you’ll see online today.
Cashback on losses
You can read more about bonuses, rewards and promotions in the following two articles.
It’s not all about giving stuff away of course. Another way that the sites attract and retain customers is by offering additional features. Here are some examples.
Cash out feature
Live streaming of events
While these features were innovative when they were first introduced, they’re pretty common now. When one good idea hits the industry, most sites take that idea and roll with it. Live betting is a great example of this. It was an extremely exciting new concept when it was first introduced in 2002. Sites quickly started offering it and now it’s hard to imagine there was a time when we COULDN’T wager on events after they already started.
There are dozens of other innovative features that have been introduced during the evolution of sports betting. Most of them benefit us in one way or another. We expect there’ll be plenty more new features to look forward to in the future too.
Introduction of Exchange Betting
Betfair was one of the first betting exchanges to launch online, back in 2001. As part of their publicity drive, they claimed that exchange betting was going to result in the “death of the bookmaker.” It was a bold claim to say the least, and it hasn’t proved true yet. Nonetheless, the introduction of exchange betting has definitely had a huge impact on the sports betting industry as a whole.
The major difference between exchange betting and standard betting lies in who you place your wagers with. Instead of placing wagers with a bookmaker, you actually place them with another bettor. You can set your own odds, or accept the odds offered by someone else. You can back selections, as you would with a bookmaker, or lay them. Laying a selection is essentially betting on it to lose. There’s a more detailed explanation of how it all works in the following guide.
Exchange betting was another exciting development in the evolution of sports betting. Even though it will never remove the need or desire for traditional bookmaking, it’s a great alternative. Casual and serious bettors can both benefit from learning about exchange betting, as there’s fun to be had AND money to be made!
Rise of Mobile Betting
This is one of the more recent developments in online sports betting. Betting from a mobile device has been possible for a long time, but it really started to take off in the last few years. Most sites focus a lot more time and energy into the mobile versions of their sites. Some sites have even released apps that are compatible with a variety of different devices.
The rise of mobile betting isn’t surprising really. Smartphones have become much more sophisticated, and play an increasingly bigger role in our lives. A lot of people do virtually all their online activity from their phone, so why should placing sports wagers be any different?
This particular development doesn’t really affect the industry in any significant way. In practical terms, mobile betting works in the same way as normal online betting. It’s just the means of accessing a site that’s different. So it’s really nothing more than some extra technological issues for the sites to deal with.
From our perspective, it makes online betting even more convenient. As long as we’ve got our phones with us, we can place our wagers wherever we are. Providing we’ve got coverage, of course!
More Efficient Market
Almost everything we’ve discussed so far has been in some way positive for us bettors. There is, however, one significantly negative aspect in the evolution of online betting.
The efficiency of the betting markets has made it harder to make money.
The casual bettor won’t be bothered much by this, but it’s bad news for the serious bettor. Making money from betting on sports has always been challenging, so we often try to avoid anything that makes it even harder. It’s the price we have to pay for all the other benefits we’ve gained though.
So what do we actually mean by the efficiency of the betting markets? Well, it’s a similar principle to the Efficient Market Hypothesis that applies to the stock markets. The theory with this hypothesis is that stocks always trade at their “fair value,” because all the relevant information about those stocks is known.
In the context of sports betting, an efficient market is basically where the odds and lines are set “perfectly” and take into account all the relevant information that relates to the associated event. They accurately reflect the probability of the different outcomes, but since the bookmaker’s profit margin is built in, finding value becomes very difficult.
Difficult doesn’t mean impossible though! There IS still value to be found in the markets. We just have to be even smarter, and put in even more effort.
It’s now over twenty years since the first betting site was launched, and the first online wager placed. A lot has happened in the online betting industry in those 20 years, most of which has been really good for us bettors. The overall user experience is much better, there’s more regulation and oversight, and there’s a much better variety of betting options available to us. The odds and lines are better, and we’re regularly seeing new and innovative features added to sites.
The only real downside is that it’s harder than ever to make money online. The market is more efficient, and it’s often very difficult to find value. And those who do manage to make money are at risk of having their accounts shut down.
There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen to this industry in the future. What’s likely, though, is that it will continue to evolve at a similar pace. There’s so much money involved, and so much competition, that regular development and innovation are almost inevitable.
We expect that online sports betting will probably become an even more enjoyable experience in the coming years. The casual bettors will remain happy and entertained, while the smart bettors will find it more and more difficult to make a profit. The potential for profit will ALWAYS be there though, so it’ll still be worth trying.