To learn what started betting on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The USA 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 ended in selected backlashes that have lead to prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as three waves. The first wave was in the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the second wave started following the Civil War and lasted till the early 20th Century and also the third 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 possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on it had been allowed so long as it wasn’t a calling or trade except for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought along with them views that said gambling was merely 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 being a solution from financial problems and to benefit 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 19th Century. Horse racing had also been popular and the Long Island built the very first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand 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 had been held responsible for carrying out 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 eventually concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a huge increase 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 also by 1850 California and many 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 wagering activities underground and did not eliminate it. Gambling was legal during 1869-1910 in Nevada.
It is possible to now understand what started gambling on sports in the US. With all the many 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 straightforward. 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 already is a billion dollar industry.