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 allowing some kinds of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to a certain degree. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have led to certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose explains these changes in law as 3 waves. The first wave was in the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the second wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted till the early Twentieth century and also the third wave commenced while in the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Afterwards it was allowed so long as it wasn’t a calling or trade but 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 since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of economic problems and to help the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and proceeds were utilized to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the early Nineteenth century. Horse racing had also been popular and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming began 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 was a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who were blamed for committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there seemed to be increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with all the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a huge surge in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the US. 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 forms of gambling illegal and a number of professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove wagering activities underground and did not eliminate it. Gambling was legal during 1869-1910 in Nevada.
It is possible to now understand what started gambling on sports in the USA. With all the numerous scandals in the lottery gambling segments, 35 states in the US including California prohibited lotteries. In 1933 pari-mutuel betting was legalized and new automated systems and laws made horse racing betting more straightforward. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City became a preferred tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a high dollar industry.