To learn what started betting on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The USA has a long history of permitting certain types of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to some extent. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have ended in selected backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as three waves. The 1st wave was during the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started following the Civil War and lasted till the early 20th Century and also the 3rd wave commenced during the Great Depression and it’s 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 was allowed so long as it was not 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.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution from economic problems as well as benefit the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and proceeds were used to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the initial 19th Century. Horse racing had also been popular and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to allow card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand river featuring its riverboats became a major trade avenue for both 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 blamed for carrying out 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 finally concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a tremendous surge in the types of gambling and San Francisco was crowned 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 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 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 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 quite popular and already is a billion dollar industry.