To understand what started betting on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in America. The USA had 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 led to selected backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose explains these adjustments in law as 3 waves. The first wave was in the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the second wave started following the Civil War and lasted up until the early Twentieth century and also the 3rd wave commenced while in 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 banned. Later on it was allowed as long as it wasn’t a calling or trade except for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was merely a harmless past time. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling as it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of financial problems and to help the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and profits were utilized to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the early 19th Century. Horse racing had also been popular and the Long Island built the very first race track in 1665. Casino gaming began to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became a structured and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty river with its riverboats became a major trade avenue for 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 held responsible for carrying out 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 the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a huge surge in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco was crowned 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 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 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 straightforward. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City was a preferred tourist destination. Despite its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a high dollar industry.