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 certain types of legal gambling and even illegal betting to a certain degree. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have led to certain backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as three waves. The 1st wave was in the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the second wave started following the Civil War and lasted up until the early Twentieth century and also the 3rd wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse 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 as long as it wasn’t a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was merely a harmless past time. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of financial problems as well as benefit the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and proceeds were used to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the initial 19th 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 started to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty river with its riverboats became a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans soon gained recognition as the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been 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 whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals finally concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a tremendous increase in the types of gambling and San Francisco became the new gambling capital in the US. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and by 1850 California and many 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 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 US. With all the many 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 was a preferred tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a billion dollar industry.