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The Wild West of Online Poker: How the Game Has Changed in the Digital Age

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The online poker landscape looked much different in 1998 than it does today. In the early days of online poker, the limits were small, the player pools tiny, and the technology rudimentary. But over two decades, online poker at MyCasino has evolved dramatically, experiencing meteoric highs, crushing lows, and massive change.
Letís explore the key developments that have shaped online poker into the global, highly-regulated, competitive game it is today.

#1 The Early Days: Online Poker in the Late 90s

Online poker traces its roots back to January 1st, 1998 when Planet Poker dealt its first real money hand. In the early days, online poker was seen as something of a Wild West frontier with lax regulation and oversight.
Planet Poker enjoyed a few years as the only real option, but others soon jumped into the fray. Paradise Poker went live in 1999, with others like PartyPoker and PokerStars emerging between 2001 and 2003. By 2003, there were over 100 online poker sites in operation.
In the early years, games rarely went above $3/$6 limits. Deposits and withdrawals were cumbersome, taking weeks via paper check. And the software was buggy and prone to crashing. But despite the challenges, online poker offered something novel and compelling for players - the ability to play from home for real money.

#2 The Poker Boom: Chris Moneymaker and Beyond

Online poker experienced a pivotal moment in 2003 with Chris Moneymakerís World Series of Poker win. After qualifying via a PokerStars satellite, Moneymaker took down the $10,000 WSOP Main Event for a $2.5 million prize. His improbable run sparked dreams of amateur players winning big online, igniting massive growth in online poker.
Poker rooms experienced an unprecedented boom from 2003 to 2006. Industry revenues ballooned from $365 million in 2003 to $2.4 billion just three years later. Millions of new players flooded online poker sites, lured by dreams of big scores. Limits shot up dramatically during the boom years, with high stakes games becoming commonplace.
Television also played a key role in the poker explosion. Hole-card cams unveiled the drama and excitement of the game for viewers. And shows like High Stakes Poker and the World Poker Tour introduced poker to the masses and further fueled the craze.

#3 Black Friday and the End of the Boom

But the boom times for online poker came to an abrupt halt on April 15th, 2011. On that infamous Friday, the DOJ unsealed an indictment against the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker, shutting down their sites in the US.
Known as Black Friday, the DOJ crackdown punished operators for violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. It also froze player accounts on the sites named in the indictment, locking US players out from their funds. The move sparked outrage and dealt a crushing blow to online poker in America.
In the years after Black Friday, online poker traffic declined precipitously in the absence of US players. PokerStars and others exited the market entirely, while those remaining introduced stringent geo-blocking technology to prevent US players from accessing real money games.

#4 The Push for Regulation in the US

In the aftermath of Black Friday, efforts ramped up to regulate online poker in the US on a state-by-state basis. Nevada became the first state to legalize online poker in 2013, with New Jersey following months after.
The regulated markets in NV and NJ imposed strict requirements around liquidity pooling, geo-location, and age verification. As a result, the legal online poker ecosystems in these states have remained small and fragmented. Nevertheless, regulation represented an important first step towards mainstream acceptance.
Several other states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Connecticut have since legalized and regulated online poker as well. And efforts are underway to explore an interstate compact that would allow the merging of player pools between states. Despite setbacks, the push towards regulated online poker continues over a decade after Black Friday.

#5 Mobile Poker and Live Streaming

Advances in technology have also dramatically impacted online poker. In the mid 2000s, online poker was played exclusively on desktop. But with the rise of smartphones and tablets, mobile poker has become widely popular as well.
Mobile poker allows players to enjoy their favorite games on the go. And features like portrait/landscape mode, snap calls/folds, and gesture controls optimize for the touchscreen experience. As mobile usage continues to climb, expect mobile poker to keep rising in popularity.
Live streaming has also emerged as a popular new poker medium. Twitch and YouTube allow players to broadcast their play in real time, often interacting with fans and commentators. Big names like Daniel Negreanu, Doug Polk, and Lex Veldhuis have built large followings around their live streams. And itís opened up poker strategy and entertainment to an entirely new audience.

What Does the Future Hold?

While the early frontier days are clearly behind us, online poker continues to evolve at a rapid clip. Continued expansion of regulated markets in the US and shared liquidity in Europe point to an industry growing beyond its checkered past.
And new technologies like VR, cryptocurrency integration, and blockchain could all help propel online poker into a new era. Over two decades in, pokerís digital revolution still feels like itís just getting started. The sites and limits might look much different than 1998, but the appeal of playing poker online for real money remains as strong as ever.

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