To understand what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in America. The US had a long history of permitting some kinds 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 changing.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments in law as 3 waves. The first wave was in the colonial era that lasted up until 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 while in the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, different attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were banned. Later on it had been allowed so long as it wasn’t a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was nothing but a harmless past time. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling as it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of financial problems as well as benefit the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and proceeds were utilized to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries remained 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 began 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 featuring its riverboats was a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as being the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who were held responsible for committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there was increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and when operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous surge in the types of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the US. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and by 1850 California and many 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 could 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 many scandals in 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. Despite its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a billion dollar industry.