To learn what started betting on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The US has a long history of allowing certain types of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to some extent. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have led to certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating 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 2nd wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted up until the early 20th Century and also the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
Throughout 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. Afterwards it was allowed as 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 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 help the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and profits were used to establish some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries continued to be 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 started 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 soon 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 all the proceeds lottery scandals finally concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous surge in the types 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 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 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 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 was a preferred tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became very popular and today is a billion dollar industry.