To understand what started betting on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in America. The US had a long history of permitting certain types of legal gambling and even illegal betting to a certain degree. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose explains these adjustments in law as 3 waves. The 1st wave was during the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the second wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted till the early Twentieth century and the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were banned. Later on it was allowed as long as it was not a calling or trade except for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought along with them views that said gambling was nothing but a harmless activity. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling as it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of financial problems and to help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and proceeds were utilized to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the initial Nineteenth century. Horse racing had also been preferred and the Long Island built the very first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns began to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became a structured and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand river featuring its riverboats became a major trade avenue for both wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans soon gained recognition as the gambling capital. Through the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been held responsible for carrying out crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there was increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a huge increase in the types of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and also by 1850 California and many cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most types of gambling illegal and a number of professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove gambling activities underground and could not eliminate it. Gambling was legal during 1869-1910 in Nevada.
It is easy to now understand what started gambling on sports in the USA. With the numerous scandals within the lottery gambling segments, 35 states in America including California prohibited lotteries. In 1933 pari-mutuel betting was legalized and new automated systems and laws made horse racing betting more honest. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City was a popular tourist destination. Despite its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a high dollar industry.