To understand what started betting on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in the US. The US had a long history of permitting some kinds of legal gambling and even illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have led to selected backlashes that have lead to prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose explains these adjustments in law as three waves. The 1st wave was during the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the second wave started following the Civil War and lasted up until the early 20th Century and the third wave commenced while in the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, different 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 was not a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought along 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.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of financial problems and to benefit the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and proceeds were utilized to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries remained 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 began 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 grand river with its riverboats became a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as 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 whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a huge surge in the types of gambling and San Francisco became the new gambling capital in the USA. 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 all 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 honest. 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 today is a billion dollar industry.