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 allowing certain types of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to a certain degree. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have led to certain backlashes which have lead to 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 1st 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 till the early 20th Century and the 3rd wave commenced during the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, different attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were banned. Afterwards it was allowed so long as it wasn’t 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 since it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as being a solution from economic problems as well as benefit the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and proceeds were used 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 preferred and the Long Island built the 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 with its riverboats was a major trade avenue for 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 committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there seemed to be increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and when operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals eventually led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off 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 by 1850 California and lots of cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most types of gambling illegal and a number of professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove gambling 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 the numerous scandals in 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 quite popular and today is a billion dollar industry.