To learn what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in America. The US has a long history of allowing some kinds of legal gambling and also illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have ended in selected backlashes that have lead to 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 in the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started following the Civil War and lasted till the early Twentieth century and the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on it was 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 activity. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling as it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as being a solution out of economic problems and to help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and proceeds were used to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the early Nineteenth 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 permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized 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 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 when operators absconded with all 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 became 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 could not eliminate it. Gambling was legal during 1869-1910 in Nevada.
It is possible to now understand what started gambling on sports in the USA. 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 became a popular tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became very popular and already is a high dollar industry.