To understand what started betting on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in the US. The US had a long history of allowing some kinds of legal gambling and also illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have led to selected backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose explains these changes in law as 3 waves. The first wave was in 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 20th Century and the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on it was allowed as long as it was not a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought 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.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as a solution from economic problems as well as help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were utilized to establish a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the early Nineteenth century. Horse racing had also been preferred and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns began to allow 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 quickly gained recognition as the gambling capital. Through the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been held responsible for committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there was increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with all the proceeds lottery scandals eventually concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a tremendous increase in the types of gambling and San Francisco became the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and also by 1850 California and lots of cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most forms of gambling illegal and certain 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 US. With all the many 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. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became very popular and today is a high dollar industry.