This is the second article in a six part series taking a look at the history of the poker boom, including how it began, how it has evolved over the years and where poker may be headed in the future. Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
A handful of online poker rooms were ready to reap the benefits when poker hit the big-time in 2003 with the World Poker Tour's television debut.
They generally offered new players modest deposit bonuses that were easy to clear, enticing those who watched poker on TV to try the game at little or no expense. Most rooms also featured Limit and No-Limit Hold'em single- and multi-table tournaments
The first wave
Paradise Poker joined the market in 1999 and quickly became the market leader. The room had no spokesperson, relying instead on its tropical theme and game selection to draw players. Paradise's interface featured simple graphics and easy-to-navigate lobbies, while the room itself offered plenty of ring games of varying stakes.
Later on, Paradise would begin hosting multi-table tournaments that proved popular.
In October 2004, Paradise Poker was purchased by Sportinget PLC, a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). Between then and January 2006, Sportingbet's stock price would rise 375%.
American investor Ruth Parasol and Indian IT master Anurag Dikshit launched PartyPoker in 2001. The site drew small but steady traffic before it became associated with the World Poker Tour.
The PartyPoker Million II, its first WPT event, drew 177 players at $5,000 apiece and crowned Howard Lederer as its champion. He won $289,150.
PartyPoker took full advantage of airtime on WPT broadcasts, using what their CEO would later refer to as a "shotgun" marketing approach. The repetitive ads featured PartyPoker's spokesman, WPT announcer Mike Sexton, and promoted how easy it was to learn the game.
The strategy drew scores of new players to the room. In September 2003 PartyPoker hit a milestone when over 20,000 players were logged on at once. By January 2004 that number had soared to 40,000.
PartyPoker's enormous growth was reflected in its tournaments. By March 2004, the site was hosting a $1,000,000 guaranteed prize pool tournament, the largest online at the time. The PartyPoker Million III was also a success, drawing in 546 entries, despite a higher buy-in, and delivering a $1,000,000 first prize to champion Erick Lindgren.
PartyGaming, the site's parent company, went public on the LSE in June 2005. The valuation of the company at the time was £4.64 billion (approx. $8.46 billion).
UltimateBet went live in 2001, but the site really put itself on the map in 2003 when it became involved with the WPT. UB sponsored the Aruba stop on the tour, which featured an odd amateurs-versus-pros structure during the first year.
Professional player Phil Hellmuth, spokesman for the site, got plenty of TV time but didn't come close to winning. Instead, Finnish paintball enthusiast and amateur poker player Juha Helppi's $50,000 triumph inspired hundreds of players to log on and give the game a shot.
UB never became an industry leader like PartyPoker, but an example of its growth from the poker boom is the Aruba Poker Classic. In 2002, 100 amateurs paid $300 apiece to enter the event. In 2003, 436 players paid a $4,000 entry fee for a shot at the title.
PokerStars launched its card room in 2001 and quickly gained a reputation for its customer service and its tournament selection, including specialty tournament such as the World Championship of Online Poker and the World Cup of Poker.
PokerStars' reputation was boosted overnight in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker, who had won his seat in a PokerStars satellite, won $2,500,000 in the WSOP Main Event. The Tennessee accountant began appearing on advertisements for the room, and the player count grew by leaps and bounds.
PokerStars parlayed its post-Moneymaker growth into the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, a new stop on the WPT for Season 2 that drew 221 entries its first year and gave Gus Hansen another WPT title.
The Second Wave
With the runaway success of online poker, it wasn't long before more companies would decide to cash in.
Full Tilt Poker
Full Tilt Poker opened its virtual doors in July 2004 with a unique marketing weapon: a roster of professional players.
While some other sites had pros as spokespeople, Full Tilt Poker successfully marketed itself as the room where you could play with the players you'd seen on television without having to be a high roller.
The online poker market was beginning to grow more crowded when Full Tilt Poker joined the game, but Full Tilt Poker successfully used the professional poker image to carve out a market share that would hold steady for several years.
DoylesRoom.com started a fairly small room with standard offerings. Unlike Full Tilt Poker, which had its own player base, DoylesRoom.com shared tables with other rooms on the Tribeca network.
DoylesRoom.com began to give players more unique options and was the first to offer online badugi, the four-card triple draw game popular among some high-stakes players.
Also popular are the Bounty Tournaments, in which players earned an extra prize for knocking out Brunson or one of his guest pros. Among the roster of guests are Mike Caro, Todd Brunson, Cyndy Violette and Hoyt Corkins.
Other rooms join the game
Late 2004 saw a number of new poker rooms and networks enter the market including Everest Poker, Bodog and Noble Poker. These rooms often used significant sign-up bonuses to draw players away from the other rooms.
The Cryptologic network of poker rooms was enjoying growing traffic as well.
One of its sites, Interpoker had first gone online in 2002, well before the first WPT broadcast, and the other sites joined its network over the next two years.
The European-focused Cryptologic sites hadn't benefited as directly from the poker boom, but by 2004, growth in online traffic meant that a significant number of players began to find the "Cryptos" and their juicy monthly bonuses quite attractive.
Two rooms that missed the boom
The online poker industry was still in its infant stages when television stepped in and changed the game overnight. Two companies - Planet Poker and Pokerspot - missed out on the boom for two very different reasons.
Planet Poker was the first poker site to offer real-money play, going online in 1997. The "face" of the room was professional poker player and author Mike Caro. The software offered a limited range of games and no tournaments, but Planet made its money from being first on the ground in a new industry.
In 1999 a group of computer engineers revealed they had figured out a security flaw in the site's software, allowing the team to know the order of cards in the shuffle. This revelation cost Planet Poker valuable market share that it would never regain.
Planet introduced a newer, more secure shuffling algorithm and more game variety. Competition in the nascent online poker industry was tough, and after passage of the UIGEA in late 2006 the site stopped offering real-money games altogether.
Pokerspot was founded by brothers Robert and Russ "Dutch" Boyd in 1999, after Dutch was playing on Planet Poker and realized the giant hole the site was leaving without offering tournaments and other poker variations.
The site went live in 2000 and shortly after launch became the first online poker room to offer multi-table tournaments. But in early 2001, , Pokerspot's payment processor, NetPro Ltd., failed to process six weeks' worth of credit card deposits to the site.
Pokerspot players were unable to cash out their winnings and company went under in late 2001. The Boyds tried to sell off the company's assets before eventually releasing the Pokerspot software to the public in 2007.
Related Article: The Poker Boom Part 1: Where it all began