From Kitchen Tables to Global Tournaments: The Fascinating Evolution of Online Poker

Poker has been considered one of the most venerable card games to exist. Over the years it has become a table game that has drawn many people - even for a chance to win money. From the saloons of the Old West to the online era, it still commands respect even today. Even its rise in the heydays of the Poker boom of the early 2000s made it one of the more popular online casino games.

We’ll discuss the evolution of the game from its early roots to today. Once you’ve finished reading this guide, you might want to try your hand at a game. Let’s shuffle the deck and start dealing.

The Early Years of Poker

It’s unclear when poker was first played. However, it was believed that poker was played as early as the 19th century. It began as a game that was played on riverboat casinos in the American South. But nevertheless, the game has evolved over over 100 years.

Different variations of the game like five-card stud and Texas hold ‘em would make their presence known throughout the years. Even today, casinos offering online poker are garnering a huge draw. Yet, the late 1990s witnessed the advent of the Internet being used worldwide. Pretty soon, it became evident that online gaming was a possibility.

Imagine players from around the world playing their favorite games. Virtual casinos were offering the same table games and slots as their land-based counterparts. But the opportunity of winning money would draw in more people.

Online poker and the “Poker boom”

From the late 1990s and into the 2000s, online poker’s popularity began to rise. However, it didn’t start off in a “hitting the ground running” sort of way. It started with limited options and didn’t have adequate software to run things properly. Yet, it was Planet Poker that became the first to plant its flag in the digital world.

Soon, competing websites like PokerStars and partypoker among others would arrive on the scene. Yet, poker’s popularity didn’t stay within the online realm. In 2003, the “Poker boom” would soon take shape. The World Poker Tour began its first-ever season and televised its matches - most of which were on American television.

The first-ever WSOP Main Event winner was Chris Moneymaker, who won over $2 million in prize money. These poker tournaments were not online but rather in a land-based setting. Where else but Las Vegas?

The Poker Boom would enjoy three years of uninterrupted popularity among players and spectators. Even the NHL lockout may have played a role in ESPN’s decision to fill the void by airing poker matches. Thus, it brought more attention to the game.

The challenges of online poker’s evolution

While many were enjoying poker both online and offline, the game hit its biggest obstacle to date. The United States government introduced and eventually approved the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. As a result, many American-based online poker operators were faced with the prospect of shuttering their operations.

Those who moved offshore would ban American players. Privately owned companies that ran poker sites would continue to take on American citizens, even at the risk of violating the law.

Even the WSOP Main Event suffered a hit in attendance. The 2007 Main Event had fewer attendees than it did the previous year. Nonetheless, the hammer was coming down on many online poker websites as many of them were shutting down due to violations of UIGEA including Absolute Poker.

Absolute Poker’s shutdown resulted in the arrest of some of its founders. Yet, its downfall was one of many scandalous stories surrounding online poker’s rise.

Is online poker still available online today?

The short answer is yes. However, there are certain jurisdictions that may have restrictions or laws in place. As of 2024, there are six US states that have legalized it - Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan. There are some complicated obstacles regarding online poker’s legality across the United States.

One of them of course is due to compacts between state governments and tribes that offer gaming services. Other states may have resisted legalizing online poker due mostly to religious or political factors. As for the rest of the world, it may be dependent on the laws and regulations issued.

Nonetheless, online poker platforms must be licensed by the necessary authoritative bodies. If you are interested in playing poker, a platform’s licensing status is what you need to look out for.

Online poker still has a level of popularity today - even if it’s not as large as in ages past. But nonetheless, its evolution from being a table game to an online sensation is extraordinary. Will online poker experience a resurgence in the future? Only time may tell.

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