To learn what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The USA had a long history of allowing certain types of legal gambling and also illegal gambling 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 pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose explains these adjustments in law as three waves. The 1st wave was in the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started following the Civil War and lasted till the early 20th Century and the third wave commenced while in the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Later on it was allowed so long as it was not a calling or trade but 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 high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution out of financial problems and to help the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and proceeds were used to establish a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the early Nineteenth 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 an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty river with its riverboats was a major trade avenue for both wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as being 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 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 triggered a tremendous increase 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 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 possible to now understand what started gambling on sports in the USA. With 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 straightforward. 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 today is a high dollar industry.