To learn what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in America. The USA has a long history of allowing certain types 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 regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose explains these changes in law as three waves. The 1st wave was during the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the second wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted up until the early Twentieth century and also the 3rd wave commenced while in the Great Depression and is 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 banned. Afterwards it had been allowed as long as it wasn’t a calling or trade except 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 since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of economic problems and to help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were used to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the early 19th Century. Horse racing was also preferred and the Long Island built the very first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started 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 was a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as the gambling capital. Through 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 whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous surge in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the US. 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 certain 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 easy to now understand what started gambling on sports in the US. With all the many 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 became a preferred tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a high dollar industry.