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Intertops The First Online Sportsbook
Online betting portals began turning to sports betting history as a source for fresh content some 15-years ago. Over the years the Computer Group story was written, Ron Sacco (bmaker.ag), better known as Cigar, was named “the founder of offshore gambling” and Billy Scott (WWTS) “the godfather of sports betting”. Unfortunately history has found a way to distort itself with rumors turning to fact, and careless research into dates, but all this is minor and fails in comparison to the glaring omission of Intertops.com from the historical archives. As you’ll learn in this article, Intertops truly is the company that started it all.
Detlef Train (Detlef’lI’ain) – Intertops Early Years
Intertops got their start back in 1982 in Germany; it took less than a year for their founder and owner Detlef Train (pictured top right) to run into challenges with authorities. His solution wasn’t to quit bookmaking, but rather in 1983 he moved to London and obtained a British bookmaker license. The purpose of this license was to set up a phone-in betting shop that marketed to his home country (Germany). Perhaps Detlef Train wasn’t the first to execute such a plan, but as far as documented sports betting history goes, he was the first to obtain licensing and safe haven in one country for the purpose of marketing in another where bookmaking was illegal.
During Intertops early years in London, UK punters could place their bets in any Intertops office. The larger portion of their business came from German punters who in their home country were limited to betting with the Government’s monopoly. Considering Intertops offered better odds and more markets, many Germans opened and funded Intertop accounts via post which then allowed them to make telephone wagers. The UK operation remained small and merely a cover for their German post which also attracted a large number of Scandinavian punters.
During Mr. Detlef Trains first eight years in London, many American bookies executed similar plans, landing in Panama, Belize, Venezuela, Dominican, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Antigua. With pressure coming in from both the US and German governments, UK officials were not quite sure how to handle this grey area. This led to a legislative proposal that would restrict licensees from engaging in cross-border trade. Not one to wait around, Detlef Train moved his operation to Austria in 1992.
Simon Noble Takes Over
Simon Noble was an 18-year college student studying banking and internal finance at Manchester University when in 1989 he gained part time employment as a ticket writer in Intertop’s London office. Little did he know at the time, he’d eventually become the face of online gambling.
Once a part-time ticket writer, Simon Noble would help the company secure credit card processing and then follow them in their move to Austria. In 1994, he headed up their internet expansion team; a team which set a goal to become the first online sportsbook. Detlef Train who was known for declining all media interviews took on a behind the scenes roll in 1995, promoting Simon Noble to CEO and granting him full control over day to day operations. While Mr. Train was a media ghost, Noble was the opposite. His name was quoted in newspapers as frequently as you’d hear MMMbop playing on the Radio; for those not around at the time, although extremely annoying, that was the top song when Intertops was first growing online.
17 January 1996, was the most historical day in sports betting history. This is the day Intertops.com accepted a $50 wager from a Finnish gambler named Jukka Honkavaara on a UK Football match between Hereford United and Tottenham. Intertops was successful in their goal to become the first online sportsbook. Mr. Honkavaara’s wager placed on 17 January 1996 was the first ever sports bet made online.
The significance of becoming the first online sportsbook cannot possibly be overstated. Intertops.com was developed without footsteps to follow. After just over a year in development, Intertops was able to bring sports betting to the internet, an information network that was still unknown to large portions of the population.
Intertops Plows Forward into USA
Unfortunately for Intertops, first mover advantage was short lived. In 1996 VIP Sports also launched; the following year, dozens of others including Players Only (now: Sportsbook.com), Rio International (later: skybook.com) and Big Book (later absorbed by Bodog) came online. It was a competitive time indeed and there were new government pressures. Austria who was okay with phone in accounts opened via post, but had issues with internet betting and net based signups. As a result Intertops split, moving the internet portion of their business to Antigua in late 1997. Shortly later they translated their website to English and began marketing to the United States.
First Seamless Gambling Site
The innovations over the year have been many. Intertops was an early client of Microgaming, integrating its casino software to their website in 1998. In 2003 they partnered with PartyPoker.com and began operating a shared player skin. Once this occurred, Intertops was quick with press releases declaring themselves the first company to offer sports betting, casino and poker seamlessly from a single website. This statement is only partially true. Technically speaking, Bodog was the first seamless 3-product site, but their initial poker room was horrible and eventually scrapped (a year later a stable poker room was added to Bodog.com). Intertops wasn’t the first, they were just the first “relevant” seamless online betting site; doing it with a much fancier casino than the competition and a poker site that shared the title “world’s largest”.
First Mobile Betting Software – In year 2000!
As the rest of the gambling industry wondered what Y2K might bring, Intertops.com was developing WAP enabled software that made betting via mobile phones possible. To show the significance of this, today the leading mobile betting sites are Betfair, Bet365 and Bookmaker. When Intertops launched their mobile betting client NONE of these three leaders even had their standard websites online yet. This shows how far ahead of the curve Intertops was, once again developing a major betting innovation without footsteps to follow.
Simon Noble Steps Down, Off to WWTS
Intertops is still today one of the largest and most respected betting sites in the industry, but this did not come without challenges and periods of decline. In April 2002, Billy Scott who had built the largest toll-free phone-based wagering shop targeting the US was retiring from his empire operations called World Wide Tele-Sports (WWTS) and insisted Simon Noble take over as CEO. The offer must have been outstanding, because on April 24, 2002 Simon Noble announced his intent to step-down as Intertops CEO, thus leaving the company he worked his way from a part time ticket writer at age18, to the biggest name in sports gambling at age 31. On June 1, 2002 his resignation took effect and WWTS announced him as their CEO on June 15, 2002.
While first and foremost an online sportsbook, Intertops made great strides pushing their PartyPoker networked poker room during the WPT/Moneymaker driven boom of 2003/2004. Unfortunately, a series of challenges hurt their poker business and this hindered their overall momentum.
Party Gaming Gets Greedy
In October 2005, Party Poker moved all of its skins to their own network. This network still used Party Poker’s software but did not have access to Party Poker’s player pool. The skins on the secondary network included Empire Poker, Eurobet and Multi Poker. Over the next few months the secondary network would dissolve. Empire Poker filed a lawsuit against Party Gaming over the ring fencing of the player pool. During this lawsuit Eurobet moved their players to the Ongame Network. Empire Poker would go on to settle with Party Gaming for $250 million. Upon this settlement, MultiPoker and Intertops Poker would go on to sell their Party Gaming skins for an undisclosed amount.
Intertops Poker to Microgaming
During much of 2006 Intertops did not offer poker directly to their players. Instead, Intertops was an affiliate for Party Poker. In late 2006, Intertops got back into the online poker business. They launched a skin on the Microgaming Poker Network, which at the time was often referred to as Prima Poker. After the UIGEA passed in the U.S. Microgaming banned 11 U.S. states. Players in those 11 U.S. states could still play on Microgaming through Intertops due to the unique method the software was configured.
Intertops Poker Moves Again: CakeNetwork
In 2009, Microgaming stopped allowing new U.S. players. Considering the large numbers of U.S. player accounts in Intertops’ portfolio, they were forced to move their online poker and casino operations away from Microgaming. The online casino operations were moved to Real Time Gaming and the online poker operations were moved to what was at the time the largest U.S. facing online poker network, Cake Poker.
Changing networks several times caused this once well known Intertops poker brand to become largely irrelevant in the online poker market.
Intertops managed to attract 500,000 customers and 20 million wagers by January 2002, thanks in part to wild publicity stunts gone viral. One such stunt was their Moolette.com website which broadcast four cows roaming around a field with a giant 65-foot roulette wheel painted on it. Bettors made wagers based on which number a specific cow would plop on next. The entire marketing idea was that some players didn’t trust computers, but live dealer games that used cows would be impossible to rig. While this sounds like a joke, it was serious! This was in their offerings for several years and caught significant media attention bringing Intertops.com free marketing exposure.
Simon Noble was a marketing genius, he didn’t rely simply on cows taking a dump to grow the brand; he was famous for giving major media a nudge. He’d post odds on who will win Survivor (the original won by Richard Hatch), what fuel prices will be next month, who will win the Israeli election, who Al Gore will chose as a running mate. His nudges were to get major media to incorporate the odds of certain things occurring into stories people were interested in. These articles contained unpaid for references to Intertops.com, and more times than not also included a Simon Noble quote. No doubt this early exposure helped carry Intertops over the top, and the residual effects will likely last for decades to come.
Intertops then and Now
The best way to understand Intertops current state is to look at their founder Detlef Train. He’s as private as anyone you’ll find in the gambling industry; I’m not even sure he gave a single media interview until Intertops.com was ten years old, and the total interviews I recall him giving I can count on one hand. The strategy he’s preferred was to focus on great value, be that entertainment novelty wagers, or better than standard odds. Today, online gambling is restricted in many countries, yet no one seems to pay much attention to Intertops because they’ve headed back to their roots. Once the king of media stunts and link bait, today Intertops prefers to remain low key and off government radars.
Intertops is however still an excellent choice for sports betting. Their company offers a VIP loyalty scheme that automatically gives rebates equivalent to a 10% savings of vig. They have dozens of promotions, frequent reloads, and a massive selection of wagering opportunities including soccer competitions from around the world and over a dozen propositions for each and every game of the NFL football season. They also offer small markets such as ski jumping, politics and movie props.
Know this: for as long as online sports betting has existed, so has Intertops.com. They were founded by the first bookie to move offshore, accepted the first ever internet bet, and developed mobile sports betting in a time pay phones cost a dime. They are innovators of the industry, building it all with no footsteps to follow. If you’re looking for a well established and highly respected gambling site, Betbubbles.com is a fine choice!
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