To understand what started betting on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in America. The US has a long history of allowing certain types of legal gambling and also illegal betting to a certain degree. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have led to selected backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as three waves. The 1st wave was in the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started following the Civil War and lasted till the early 20th Century and also the 3rd wave commenced while in the Great Depression and is still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on 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 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 out of financial problems as well as benefit the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and proceeds were utilized to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the initial 19th Century. Horse racing was also 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 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 both wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans soon gained recognition as being the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been held responsible for committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there was increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals eventually 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 US. 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 certain professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove gambling 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 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.