To understand 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 allowing some kinds of legal gambling and also illegal gambling to a certain degree. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose explains these changes in law as three waves. The 1st 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 up until the early 20th Century and the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, different attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on it had been allowed so long as it was not a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was merely a harmless activity. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling since it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as being a solution from economic problems and to benefit the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and proceeds were used to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the initial Nineteenth century. Horse racing had also been preferred and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming began to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns began to allow card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty 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 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 when operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a huge increase in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco became the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and by 1850 California and lots of cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most types of gambling illegal and certain professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove wagering activities underground and could 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 numerous scandals within 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 was a popular tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a high dollar industry.