We have reviewed nine of the largest online gaming operators to see how they have been affected by the signing of the UIGEA and what countermeasures they have taken to ensure growth in 2007.
Following the introduction of the UIGEA in October 2006, most online gaming companies withdrew from the US market, leaving US players with few legal alternatives as to where to play their favourite games.
To celebrate the Chinese New Year, we bring you a brief history of one of China's most popular games. There are several theories regarding the origins of Mahjong and it's often said that the Chinese philosopher Confucius created the game in around 500 BC.
Although there are some indications to support this idea, the lack of physical evidence for the existence of Mahjong before 1850 suggests that Confucius probably didn't invent the game. A more reasonable theory is that Mahjong first appeared around 1850 at the earliest and was developed from Chinese Card and Domino games which had been played for centuries. It's believed that Mahjong was based on the popular Chinese card game Ma Tiao.
The earliest Mahjong sets are from the 1870s and the earliest written record of the game is from the 1890s. The identity of the inventor is unknown but it has been suggested that the game was created by Chinese army officers or noblemen from the Shanghai area.
The first contact with the West occurred in 1900 when Mahjong was introduced to the English clubs in Shanghai and by 1920, Mahjong had spread all over China and replaced chess as the most popular game.
The real breakthrough came when Joseph P. Babcock, who encountered Mahjong when he was working for an American oil company in China, translated and simplified the rules in his book Rules of Mah-Jongg in 1920 and introduced the game to the United States. He decided to use the name €˜Mah-jongg' rather than the original Chinese name €˜Mah Que' which means sparrows.
By 1922, Babcock had started to import Mahjong sets to the United States and the popularity of Mahjong grew quickly, with similar success in Britain. Bridge and chess were both extremely popular at the time in the west but Mahjong was easier to learn than bridge and many people found it to be more intricate than chess. Along with the increase in popularity there developed a large number of rule variations.
Unfortunately by the end of the 1920s, interest in the west was already diminishing. The simplification of the game along with the many different rule versions had stripped it of some of its charm and diminished the intellectual challenge.
The immense initial popularity was never regained but during the depression, interest in card and table games rose and Mahjong was revived after 1935. Since then there has been a steady interest in Mahjong around the world. In China, the home of Mahjong, the game was forbidden during the cultural revolution by the communist regime but today the governments attitude toward the game is more tolerant.
The most common form of the game is Hong Kong Mahjong which only differs from the classical Chinese version in some minor scoring details. Interestingly, the style of Mahjong differs between cultures. For example in Japan, Mahjong is strongly focused on gambling while in America, playing Mahjong is primarily a social activity.
Accordingly, there are now more than twenty different versions of Mahjong, including Japanese, Vietnamese and American variants. In America Mahjong has become especially popular in the Jewish-American community.
With the help of technology, there now seems to be a rise in interest for Mahjong. Computer versions of the game are now available, Japan has introduced Mahjong arcade machines and the popularity of the game online is evident by the number of gaming companies adding Mahjong to their offerings.
Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ebay represent the big four online. Wherever in the world you are, chances are you are familiar with the names of these giants of online media. These brands which once grew in relative obscurity online are now as recognisable in the real world as McDonalds or Coca Cola.
Is 24hPoker's move to a single e-wallet, which allows customers access to more than one poker network, a recipe for success or an open door to leave the network?
24hPoker, owner of the B2B/24hNetwork announced in November 2006 that they would offer their customers the option to use rival poker networks through 24hPoker's e-wallet, a unique concept within the online gaming industry. The first network that they have signed such an agreement with is Boss Media's International Poker Network (IPN).
The concept comes from the founder and CEO Per Hildebrand, who in addition to his business interests is also one of the most highly rated poker players in Sweden, almost reaching the final table at the WSOP in 2005.
His logic behind the concept is that it is common practice for online poker players to play on more than one site, with the average player using three to four different sites. The problem with this practice is the need to transfer money from one site to another, back and forth between the different networks. In theory therefore, the common e-wallet will make it much easier for players that choose to play on 24hPoker, in addition to other networks. But what are the risks and what could be the potential benefits of such a service within the industry?
A problem that the B2B poker network currently faces is that of having sufficient player liquidity on the network. Since the mass withdrawal of the industry from the United States in October 2006, online gaming has become a much more competitive environment, particularly for the smaller poker networks, as competing operators fight for a smaller pool of customers.
By allowing their players to play on different poker networks, the biggest risk for 24hPoker is that the fragile level of liquidity may reduce as a result of players using rival networks and possibly remaining on other networks, which in turn could cause yet more players to leave in search of €˜the action'.
A benefit that 24hPoker can gain from the single e-wallet is from the perception that it looks after its customers needs, which could improve customer loyalty as well as generating referrals through word of mouth. There is also the possibility that they will be able to generate additional revenue from the fact that players are using their e-wallet rather than that of their competitors.
The common e-wallet was originally scheduled to launch in January 2007 and although delayed, plans still seem to be on track for a launch of the service in the near future.
Only time will tell whether this concept will pay off. There are many potential benefits, but with the network facing liquidity issues at this time, this is both brave and innovative, as well as a risky path for 24hPoker and the B2B poker network.
Thanks to the success of Svenska Spel and strong interest amongst governments for online gambling, it's increasingly likely that we will see more countries launch their own governmental poker sites in 2007 .
Although the view of the European Commission will most likely be that online gambling should be legalised, and that no one should be allowed to have a monopoly on gambling purely due to a commercial interest, the approach on how to deal with online gaming has been quite different among the member states.
Since the legislation stopping Internet gambling in the US, most online gaming companies have seen their US customers vanish. This move from the US legislator was predictable but surprised many in the Industry.
The online gaming industry has grown quickly in recent years with many new companies entering the market, but the industry has now entered a new phase where regulators change the playing field by starting national gaming companies or passing laws restricting offshore gaming.