To learn what started betting on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The USA has a long history of permitting certain types of legal gambling and even illegal betting to a certain degree. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes which have lead to prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as 3 waves. The 1st wave was during the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted up until the early Twentieth century and the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, different attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on it was allowed so long as it was not a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought along with them views that said gambling was nothing but a harmless past time. 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 from economic problems and to help the colonies. It was 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 initial Nineteenth century. Horse racing had also been popular 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 with its riverboats became a major trade avenue for both wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as being the gambling capital. Through the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been blamed for carrying out crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there seemed to be increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and when operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals eventually concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a huge surge in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco became 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 easy to now understand what started gambling on sports in the USA. With 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 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 quite popular and today is a high dollar industry.