To understand what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The US has a long history of permitting some kinds of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to some extent. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments 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 till the early Twentieth century and also the third wave commenced while in the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Afterwards 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 since it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution from financial problems as well as benefit the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and profits were used to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the early 19th Century. Horse racing was also preferred and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand river with its riverboats was a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans soon 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 whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous increase 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 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 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 very popular and already is a high dollar industry.