To understand what started betting on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The USA had a long history of allowing some kinds of legal gambling and even illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have led to certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments in law as 3 waves. The 1st wave was during the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted up until the early Twentieth century and also the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and is 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 banned. Afterwards it had been allowed so 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 since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of economic problems as well as help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were utilized to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the initial 19th Century. Horse racing had also been popular and the Long Island built the very 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 an organized 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 was increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with all the proceeds lottery scandals finally concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a huge increase 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 types of gambling illegal and a number of 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 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 became a popular tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became very popular and already is a billion dollar industry.