It’s over 20 years since the first online casinos were launched when Antigua and Barbuda became the first country to make it legal to offer online gambling to offshore residents around the world. Over the intervening two decades, online casinos evolved and developed alongside the internet as a whole. A key factor driving both has been the ever-increasing pace of technological development, creating an ever-more sophisticated and involving experience.
One of the biggest breakthroughs came about with the increased freedom that wireless connectivity brought. First invented and released in 1997, Wi-Fi really took off in the early 2000s, when faster speeds and distance coverage made it the standard offering for homes and businesses. Today, the average Wi-Fi speed is 1.3GB per second, significantly more than the 54MB per second it was 20 years ago, according to Huffington Post.
And once players were freed from having to have a wired connection of any kind, the rise of mobile use transformed online gambling even further. Since the release of the ground-breaking iPhone in 2007, gamblers have been gradually veering away from their desktops and towards their mobile devices – to the extent that as of 2013, there are now more mobile devices than people on Earth.
A growing player base
Online casino operators were quick to see the huge potential that this presented by making 24/7 access possible for players wherever they were: at home, travelling to or from work – anywhere, in fact, with a Wi-Fi connection. Thus the mobile casino was born, helping to make online gaming the most popular form of gambling in the UK. The size of the industry is no surprise considering the excitement of the games and the sheer range of choice available. The growth of the mobile casino also coincides with a moment in history when more people are now accessing the internet using mobile devices than via PCs. Online casinos have had to adapt to this fact; their games are now compatible on a range of platforms and best of all, users can play on at the go anywhere anytime, top of the line online casinos like 888casino grouped all their mobile options such as web app and native apps for both iOs and Android devices in one mobile casino page.
Although there are no verifiable figures about how many people enjoy playing at mobile casinos with their smartphones it’s estimated that 80% of UK adults have one of the devices.
Smartphones are also now king when it comes to consuming and downloading digital content in general, having well and truly dethroned PCs. In a study by Limelight Networks that surveyed consumers in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, Android mobile devices lead the way as the smartphones most used for downloads, accounting for 62%. This shows that consumers are moving away from personal computers to smartphones and tablets as their primary devices to access the internet, play games and consume digital content – so while the potential market for online casinos is already huge, it’s also growing.
For the online casino operators, one of the key challenges has been trying to capture all the excitement and usability of their PC versions of their sites on the smaller and more restrictive screens of smartphones and tablets, most have successfully managed to do this.
Big games on a smaller screen
For card games like blackjack and baccarat, the transition has been quite straightforward thanks both to the simplicity of the games and the limited amounts of visual information needed on screen. Roulette is another game that’s translated very well to the smaller format and, as in all games, downloading and using an online casino’s app also makes play even easier. That’s not to say, of course, that users can’t also play browser versions of mobile casinos, but this is never the optimal experience.
One area in which mobile casinos had failed to deliver quite as well in the past is in replicating a physical casino experience. Naturally, the operators were quick to address this problem by bringing the live casino experience to their mobile players.
So now many mobile casinos let you play anything from roulette to blackjack while being linked up to actual dealers playing in real time. To further enhance the experience players can even chat to the dealer and other players as they play. All of the tables are set up in a real casino environment, filmed with cameras and streamed live – so players can play any game they like without having to leave their homes, or even on the go. Live streamed video with real dealers dealing real cards, or launching real roulette balls, is the closest thing you’ll get to a traditional experience while playing online – and it’s opened up the casino experience to more people than ever before.
Online gambling: how the options compare
- Mobile casino v desktop casino. Mobile casinos are generally more focussed than their desktop equivalents, as they’re generally free from on-page adverts, promotions, and vibrant call to action buttons. While desktop casinos have more screen real estate to play with when it comes to game design, mobile casinos use their comparative lack of space to create a more intelligent, minimal gaming experience. When it comes to banking options, both mobile and desktop casinos are also more well-catered, often spoiling users for choice for ways to make deposits. One huge advantage of playing a game on a mobile is that you can do it discreetly, while you’re on the move, wherever there’s a good data connection or Wi-Fi signal. Mobile and desktop casino users also have different behaviours – with mobile users tending to play in mornings and evenings, and desktop users during working hours, and mobile users generally more impatient when it comes to page loading times. With over 85% of millennials owning smartphones, most mobile users of online casinos are younger than their desktop counterparts. Both desktop and mobile casinos have their own pros and cons, but each is suited to a different type of player.
- Online casino v land-based casino. Online casinos must ensure that they simulate the look, feel and excitement of a real casino. Players that use the best online casinos do not need to leave the comfort of their own home to play along. They also offer the option for users to communicate with dealers and other players in real time. However, land-based casinos have an extra advantage – the sophistication of their design. The layout of a casino is catered for three primary customers – high-rollers, casual gamers and hotel guests – but it’s always evolving to encourage more gambling while ensuring everyone can have fun. Casino are designed with one thing in mind, to make money. The flashing slot machines and huge amount of games can make players excited and ready to get involved in the action. In fact, every last detail is considered, casino designers ensure that customers are attracted towards the games as they enter the casino and once they start playing it is all about making them stay. The fact there are no windows means the players have no sense of the amount of time they’re spending inside – and plied with alcoholic beverages, it’s easy to stay there and gamble all day.
- Freemium v playing for real money. The ‘freemium’ model dominates mobile gaming, and offers users basic games for free, charging for premium upgrades and bonus features. It’s proven incredibly profitable to developers, as players are more than willing to pay more to add customisation to their experience. Traditional payed-for games give players the content they have already paid for – making it preferable to users who want to enjoy gameplay without being sold further add-ons.
The new reality
As has already been shown, technology is the real driving force behind the mobile casino and the next leap forward is likely to be due to the fast-emerging development of virtual reality. Many of the latest generation of smartphones come with their own VR headsets and there can be little doubt that right now games and programmes are being developed to exploit this.
Developers are looking to take online gambling to a whole new level with virtual reality. This immersive platform plugs gamblers in a digital casino and gives them the chance to gamble with real money in a manufactured environment. In theory, it offers a Las Vegas-style experience from the comfort of the gambler’s own home.
According to Android Headlines, gambling wagers with virtual reality are set to rise 800% in the next five years. In 2017, total bets made through virtual reality amounted to £47.2 million – and by 2021 it’s expected to surpass £423 million.
If this sounds like too much speculation, just look at how virtual reality has transformed other industries. In gaming, 200,000 developers have registered to build games for the Oculus Rift – and the virtual reality gamers reportedly engage in 40 sessions a month on average. In travel, 64% of people would visit a travel store that had virtual reality technology – particularly 18-24-year-olds – according to a UK survey by YouGov. In retail, 30% of consumer-facing companies will be experimenting with virtual reality as part of their marketing efforts in 2017 (Investors.com).
The way people are using casinos is changing. Whereas once everyone would have needed to visit a casino to play games like blackjack or roulette, they can now play on their mobile phones and enjoy the entire experience – including chatting with other players and dealers – from the comfort of their own home, or even on the go. And it’s set to get even more immersive over time, as virtual reality technology continues to emerge.