Believe it or not, almost 30 years have passed since the first virtual spin of an online slot machine; and more than a quarter century since a hacker tried to find a secret way to beat the house.
Microgaming is considered the innovative company behind the world’s first online casino. The story is often vague and difficult to define, with many of the early protagonists wanting to leave clear blue water between their current roles and the pioneering work that brought them to where they are today.
The key architect of Microgaming was Martin Moshal, a business science graduate from the University of Cape Town; in many ways, the Tim Berners-Lee of online casinos. Today, Moshal is both a hugely successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who downplays his extraordinary role in the history of the online gambling space.
Moshal has its own scholarship program and a private equity firm that funds start-ups. He describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur in the internet and software industry for over 20 years, creating and exiting a number of start-ups”.
It’s a very modest resume. In fact, Moshal was the man who introduced the online casino to the world. However, he was not alone.
Innovator looking for an investor
Today, Moshal is using his millions to invest in start-ups. In the early 1990s, Moshal was the innovator looking for an investor. Moshal wanted to develop online casino games and start his own software company.
He approached Discover Bank Limited, where he met newly graduated investment banker Roger Raatgever. Unfortunately, Moshal’s credit rating was not high enough to warrant an investment. Raatgever was clearly impressed with both the idea and Moshal and offered to co-sign the loan, in exchange for a 50% stake in the business.
Moshal agreed. Microgaming was born. Raatgever said in an interview: “I was in a rush working in investment banking and thought it was an exciting opportunity. I knew very little about [the sector] but for me it had all the elements of excitement. I am an adrenaline junkie.
What was the first online casino?
We know that Microgaming was behind the first online casino, but which one was it? The two candidates for the title of first online casino are The Gaming Club and Intercasino, the latter working with the games of the competitor Cryptologic.
It’s hard to get an exact timeline, but we do know that The Gaming Club was first launched in 1994, initially only in South Africa and as casino.co.za. When Intercasino was launched in 1996, it seemed clear that The Gaming Club was the first online casino in existence. The possible dispute over the title holder stems from the fact that Intercasino was the first to offer online payments, while The Gaming Club still used manual transactions until at least 1997.
It could therefore be argued that Intercasino was the first fully functional ‘real’ online casino, but in our opinion The Gaming Club can be called the original online casino.
Here’s a look at what The Gaming Club (then called casino.co.za) looked like in March 1996:
Online gaming pioneers
Whichever side of the argument you take, there is no doubt that Microgaming was a pioneer. Along with the evolution of casino software, there has been the rise of online sports betting in the United States. The Internet and online payment processing have avoided wire transfers. Sportsbooks were very happy to add casino games to their offer.
They would license Microgaming online casino games and could now offer blackjack, slots and roulette to their players.
In 1998, Microgaming had another massive online blow, with the introduction of Cash Splash; the first progressive jackpot online slot machine on the Internet. Until now, developers have simply imitated real-world casino games, focusing on random number generation, security, and money transfers.
Cash Splash was the first time a developer truly tapped into the potential of online casino gaming. By linking the jackpot of a game, across all online casinos hosting the same game, a huge prize pool would soon accumulate. To date, according to Microgaming, the company has paid out over €1.4 billion in progressive jackpots. There are now three different jackpot networks: WowPot, Mega Moolah and Major Millions.
No signs of slowing down
Today, Microgaming shows absolutely no signs of slowing down and resting on its well-deserved laurels. Based in the Isle of Man, with over 200 employees, the company has a portfolio of over 850 games.
It continues to create innovative games and is at the forefront of online casino development. In November 2021, Microgaming released over a dozen new games, both exclusively and with its many development partners.
Many pioneers of online gaming have faded, disappeared or never really evolved. Microgaming has never stopped. It has grown from a dream of a Durban student to a billion dollar business that just keeps getting better.
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